International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

Gerry Coffey

IVU Council Member 2000 -
Regional Co-ordinator for North America 2002-2008
Global Press & Media Officer 2008-


Gerry & Ray giving a cookery demo at the World Vegetarian Congress, Edinburgh 2002

Raymond Isaac Coffey
July 4, 1935 - June 4, 2009

I guess my switch to a vegan diet began with my interest in health. For a long time I thought exercise was the way to achieve it. On returning to the States after nearly a decade based in Bangkok where I lived a fast-paced and exciting life, I became a Health Educator at a major metropolitan hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Because of my access to the world's authorities on health, and my activities as a fitness instructor, I thought I had an edge. Until I came down with an ovarian cyst--precipitated by doctor prescribed hormonal therapy-- that grew to the size of a cantaloupe.

I started doing research and learned that complications from the traditionally prescribed surgery resulted in thousands of deaths annually. Much to everyone's consternation, I refused the surgery and immersed myself in study which led me to Natural Hygiene (strict veganism) and fasting.

My new lifestyle was not accepted by family and friends, and at first I reneged, as my family came first. As I grew sicker and more depressed I realized I would become a burden to my family if I didn't change my ways, therefore if they couldn't accept my change I must sever the relationship and follow my own convictions.

My body was so diseased after years of ignorant abuse, it took 3 major fasts and a close bout with death before my body had the resources to resolve the cyst (minus drugs or surgery) and rebuild health.

Ironically, about 6 weeks after a 20 day water fast, at the age of 48, I was tested by NASA doctors -- along with college Physical Education majors younger than my children -- and found to be in the top 5 percentile of female college athletes aged 18 to 29 (male athletes aged 24 to 37).

The doctor, a former Olympic Coach and consultant to the Air Force and Astronauts, thought my spirometer test (ability to utilize oxygen) had malfunctioned, so had me take it again. He was amazed. I was too, because I knew I was not in good health. If I tested so well, what did that say for our youth?

An addendum to this story is that after 3 years of skepticism ("If a plant based diet could solve health problems, don't you think they'd be shouting it from the rooftops!"), my husband had his own health crisis. By a fluke of fate (faith?) he had to undergo numerous tests so was required to abstain from eating for a period of 3 days. The problem healed itself, and he decided there might be some credence to my way of thinking.

For the past 14 years we have invested the majority of our time, energy and finances learning from the few world luminaries on this subject. In a way, because we have put our (re)education into practice not just theory, we have been able to fine-tune what many of the experts just discuss. Because of our high profile in the community and the rumor that I had died, people seeing me in good health began requesting consultations.

Eventually we obliged, and the results were excellent for people with diabetes, arthritis, ulcers, etc., it they could discipline themselves to follow our program. But I felt we were reaching too few people and devised a method to give back to our community in a unique way. We are about to celebrate our 5th year of teaching free monthly classes at the regional library called HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES: Disease-Free-Living Through Fitness & Nutrition. We also do private consultations, Weekend Retreats, radio and TV shows, demos for clubs and schools, and write articles and newsletters.

Through my former radio and TV show called COFFEY BREAK: A Healthy Alternative, I've hosted call in talk shows featuring top leaders in health and fitness along with policy makers in a position to effect change. We've also brought a number of these luminaries to Alabama and arranged Press Conferences, speaking engagements, etc.

And although there are many books providing good general information on health, we have not found any giving people an actual "how to" guide. We hope to provide one in the near future.

Over the years, through our classes, media visibility and success stories, we've begun to make a small, but respectable dent in our community. And the non-monetary rewards are ongoing. One of our prize pupils is a 74 year-old woman whose cholesterol was over 600. Doctors told her medication wouldn't help, to go home and "wait" because her days were numbered.

Within a few weeks after following our "prescription," she'd lost 22 lbs. and her cholesterol had plummeted to 240. Her husband, a cancer victim and vocal skeptic, lost 19 lbs., threw away his medicine, and they recently took a 6 month trip around the country in their motor home. ("I used to get lost every time I drove to the store," he laughingly recalls.)

On occasions that call for it, we've fasted babies, children and even puppies, with good results, although for anything over 3 days we recommend fasting under the supervision of a doctor. And fasting is a last resort. For most health problems, fine tuning the diet is the only requirement.

Two of our five children (one adopted) have fully embraced this way of life. (The others give it credence and are "working" at changing.) Our youngest daughter became a strict vegan when she learned she was pregnant. Her (former) husband did not think much of vegetarianism, but her will prevailed and the baby was born upstairs in our home with the aid of 3 midwives (one a trainee).

Jon Isaac uttered one little peep when he entered the world, and except for a small speck of blood on one shoulder, was clean as a whistle. The midwives found it hard to believe there was none of the usual thick muscus (caused by milk and dairy products) that must be scrubbed off most newborns. Jon Isaac is 4 1/2 years old now and has never "seen" a doctor.;-)

In conclusion, I'm still trying to decide what I'd like to be when I grow up. I think it would be nice if we could travel around the world enlightening people to the benefits of this way of life while enriching our own lives through the people we meet. But if that doesn't pan out, I wouldn't mind being an on-site writer, consultant and assistant director for the remake of "The King and I." (In-depth info on this reference elsewhere: Smile.)

--Gerry Coffey

P.S. After the WVC Thailand, Ray and I spread the word wherever possible during our stops in Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. Note: We expected to be in New Zealand in time to witness the birth of our 7th grandchild on or about January 15! She was most UNIMPRESSED with our presence, however, and waited til after we returned Stateside.

In June, I attended the European Vegetarian Congress in Switzerland where I gave a well-received talk on the influence of: FOOD & BEHAVIOR: TRANQUILITY OR VIOLENCE. (In the wake of the Columbine School Massacre, it was very timely: also the studies linking the consumption of Dairy as a predominant factor in Juvenile delinquency and crime. Two authors and a Psychologist asked if they might use some of my information.)

Alabama, USA -