A Client Q and A with Gerry Hass
Several years ago, I worked with Gerry Hass on his book about the South End Community Health Center. The pandemic prevented him from doing a public reading when his book was published, but he was able to do so in grand style in mid-March. This blog by my editorial assistant Jillian Tillian is a Q and A with Gerry on his book, his event, and his work at the center. The photo by Agnieszka Rytych-Foster Photography was taken at the gala in Boston.
What inspired you to write a book?
I wanted the history and story of the South End Community Health Center in Boston, Massachusetts, to be recorded so that we could pay tribute to the people who helped us found it. I wanted to acknowledge the extraordinary hard work of all the people who helped make the health center possible without any funding and also acknowledge the wonderful hard work that helped us grow the center over time.
How did Janice help you complete your book project?
The stories about the center came from interviews conducted by Pearl Vercruysse, who at that time was an undergraduate at Emmanuel College. I transcribed the interviews and edited them and wrote a draft of the book. Then I reached out to Janice, who is well-known in the Northampton area; my daughter and her husband actually knew Janice. So I thought it would be helpful to work with her, since I have never been a good writer. She turned the book into something that was readable and appealing while maintaining the feeling of what I had written.
What value did you find in Janice’s work?
She corrected a lot of my writing and corrected things such as peoples’ titles. And there were other things that didn’t read well, and she was able to trim those and make them more coherent.
Tell me about your book reading! I understand it was delayed several years, thanks to COVID:
No thanks to COVID! In March 2020, we were meant to have the reading and signing at the South End of Boston library, and the week before I was supposed to do it they called me to say it had been postponed indefinitely. I realized it wasn’t going to work, and then three years later it seemed that it might just work, and I just wanted to pay tribute to the wonderful people who started the center. The only sad part was that three of the people who were instrumental in starting the health center had died by then, including Mel Scovell, the director and planner. So I thought I better get on with this before anyone else passes on. I wanted to do it while I was still coherent and able to speak.
Who was in attendance at the reading?
Many of the people who started the health center that could make it—nearly 100 people. The nurses, the doctors, the support staff, the organizers. It was wonderful because we became very close. In fact, the health center has been regarded as a family. The people worked together and knew each other and knew the people in the community because there was no health care in the community other than the big Boston city hospital. They were so grateful to come, and they brought their friends. We were like a family, and we remained friends for the next 50 years. All of us.
What kind of agenda did you plan for the event?
It was really a celebration of the 50 years-plus and there was a book reading and a discussion of what the South End was like in the late ’60s.
Are you proud to be unveiling your book so many years after publication?
I am. I have a whole pile of them from three years ago. and I didn’t want to sell them, and I knew people wanted them, so we were able to give them away. Over the years I took care of thousands of patients, and I had staff who moved on to other places, but we always remained friends. So there wasn’t ever any trouble in getting rid of the books. Three years later is not quite a terrible time to wait. Three years ago, we had a reunion for our 50th anniversary of our founding in 1969, and so many people came. I mentioned that I was writing a book at that time, and everyone said they’d love to have it. The book stands on its own. It’s not a memoir, and it’s not about me. It’s about the people who started the center and made sure it provided wonderful care. It was very special.
What does it feel like to have successfully told the center’s story?
What advice do you have for others who have a book in progress?
I think they need an editor, and Janice is a terrific editor. I am very grateful to her and her time and friendly help. It’s very important to get an editor. There are very few people who can write books. This is not the only book I’ve written as I’ve written medical books, but this is a story and she was able to edit and shape it and for that, I am very grateful.