Paul Cermak

“Within every response lies the potential for profound change and the ability to transform a person’s life.” 

At the heart of Tetra Society of North America lies a transformative narrative of empowerment and self-discovery. Paul Cermak, who was Tetra’s first volunteer, epitomized Tetra’s core mission to enhance independence for people with disabilities, taking his lead from the unwavering determination of Tetra’s founder, Sam Sullivan. Everyone at The Disability Foundation and our network of societies was deeply saddened to learn of Paul’s passing in late 2023.  

Sam’s personal odyssey, driven by an unyielding spirit after becoming quadriplegic, sought to redefine the boundaries of autonomy. It was this relentless pursuit of freedom that paved the way for Tetra Society’s inception, through the collaboration between Sam and a compassionate volunteer, Paul Cermak. 

Paul’s ingenuity and unwavering dedication served as a catalyst for change in Sam’s life. Entrusted with the task of devising simple yet impactful modifications, Paul revolutionized Sam’s living space. Through innovative adjustments using household items, such as extending a coat hook and melting a knife, Paul transformed Sam’s apartment into a sanctuary of independence, where everyday tasks became within reach, fostering a newfound sense of freedom and self-sufficiency. 

Paul Cermak receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award alongside Sam Sullivan
Paul Cermak receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award alongside Sam Sullivan

The central goal of Tetra Society — to provide customized devices for people with disabilities to enhance their function and independence — found its embodiment in Paul’s remarkable contributions. His pivotal role in assisting Sam Sullivan not only symbolized the essence of Tetra’s mission but also sparked a chain reaction of empowerment. Thanks in part to Paul’s intervention, the framework for the seven societies that now make up the Disability Foundation’s network of societies, was born, each dedicated to reshaping the lives of individuals with disabilities. 

Paul’s legacy transcends the assistive devices he made for Sam and countless others; it embodies the transformative power of human connection and innovation. His story is one of profound impact, where a single act of volunteerism rippled outward, shaping the trajectory of an organization committed to redefining possibilities for people with disabilities. 

Paul Cermak, a Czech Republic native who relocated to Vancouver in the ’80s, epitomizes the notion that one individual can make a monumental difference. As Tetra’s first-ever volunteer, Paul’s journey began when he responded to Sam Sullivan’s letter to the Professional Engineering Society of BC in 1987, seeking assistance in overcoming daily barriers. Within a mere 30 minutes of their initial encounter, Paul had accomplished the seemingly impossible, enabling Sam to butter his own bread and access his refrigerator independently. 

Paul’s legacy extends far beyond the individual devices he created, encompassing the countless lives he touched through his generosity and expertise. Awarded Tetra’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, Paul’s ingenuity and generosity have left an indelible mark on Tetra’s growth into the national organization it is today. His enduring legacy continues to inspire, serving as a testament to the profound impact of one individual’s unwavering commitment to making a difference.