An obituary in Saturday’s paper brought the news of the passing of Bill Mercer in Victoria. A lot of people here won’t remember Bill, but he was once very much a force in local politics.
He was on the school board for 10 years, and was involved with the Liberal party. He ran provincially, I believe, and I still have a picture of a group of community leaders walking along the river dike after it burst at Oak Hills in 1972.
Bill is seen in the picture walking beside David Anderson, who had recently become leader of the B.C. Liberal party.
Bill was a couple of years older than me. I remember him — he and I were on the board together for a time — as a going concern. Intensely political, ambitious, energetic. Helen Barnett, who also served with him on the board, recalls that he had a “nervous energy” about him.
His background was in social work but, a few years after he left the board, he moved to Victoria and worked for government there. His obituary notes that he worked with Expo 86 in Vancouver, B.C. House in London, and Expo 92 in Spain, also serving on several local, provincial and national boards. He was an assistant deputy minister of health when he retired.
The Kamloops school boards of the 1970s had many excellent trustees who are no longer with us. One of our most famous citizens, Meryl Matthews, was on our board back at the same time as Mercer.
Another great trustee was Henry Grube, a man I greatly admired as a mentor. He was just plain smart. I roomed with him once at a school-board retreat, and by the end of the weekend my head was spinning with the wisdom of the man.
His philosophy — and he was a true philosopher — was summed up in one of his favourite lines: “One man with the truth beats the majority every time.”
Dave Kendall was another one. He had an energy that was something akin to Mercer’s, and he, too, had politics in his blood. He enjoyed talking about ideas on how to change things; he never feared taking a political risk.
Dave died many years ago of AIDS. I treasure the last letter he sent us from back east; his courage in the face of a terminal illness was inspiring.
And, there was my very good friend Neil Morrison, who died a few days before civic election night in 1999. Neil saw the world differently than most, and there are few people I learned more from than I did from him. He, too, was a politician at heart. And a sociologist. And a philosopher.
I didn’t know Bill Mercer as well as some of the others, but I do know he was part of a select group who have what it takes to be community leaders. They all go down in history as people who served their community, especially the school system, well.
School trustees don’t get the attention that MPs and MLAs, and even members of City council, receive. Theirs is low-profile politics, and when there’s an election few people turn out to their forums or even get to know who’s running for the board.
But their job is important, and those who have served down through the years have made Kamloops a better place for our kids.