AMESBURY — Ten years ago, Gary Bergeron visited his sister’s grave for the first time in more than a decade.
It was May 1, 2002, a day that promised to be among the most emotional and difficult days of Bergeron’s life.
Terry Bergeron was just 22 when she died of cancer in 1992, and to Bergeron, she was the strongest and most courageous person he had ever known.
Buried right next to her was a man named Joseph Birmingham, a priest who died of cancer himself in 1989.
Bergeron had avoided this cemetery since his sister’s death, but the time had come for him to face his demon. He needed her strength now.
A couple of hours later, Bergeron stood before a packed conference room in Boston filled with reporters, where he would speak publicly for the first time about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of Birmingham.
Birmingham abused Bergeron for three years while he was attending St. Michael’s School in Lowell in the early 1970s. He found out later that his brother, Ed, also had been abused by Birmingham, along with scores of others both before and after him.
“After my brother and I were in the newspaper, there were over 60 men who came forward from this one single priest that had been abused, and those were just the ones who came forward publicly,” Bergeron said. “That’s when I realized that I was involved in something much bigger than you ever could imagine.”
In Amesbury, Bergeron is best known as the co-owner of Mill 77, now on Route 110. But since going public with the story of his abuse 10 years ago, he has also become one of the nation’s most outspoken proponents of child sexual abuse awareness. In 2005, he wrote a book about his story titled “Don’t Call Me A Victim” and in 2007, he and another survivor of childhood sexual abuse founded Survivors Voice, which works to raise awareness of the issue around the world.