Tommy Mercer put the passion in compassionate.
He and I didn’t always agree. But there’s no one I’d rather have on the other side of an argument.
No matter what your position, with Tommy you knew exactly where you stood, and you damn sure knew where he stood.
“It was all black or white. There were no gray areas,” says Jim Whitehead, a boyhood friend and former county commission colleague. The two grew up together, and Whitehead, like a great many other people in our community, is heartbroken at Mercer’s death Wednesday at age 70.
Tommy had gone into the hospital for surgery on his chronically bad back, and while the surgery went fine, the rest of his health-challenged body couldn’t handle it, says his youngest son, Trent. “It was just too much,” he said.
The family regards Mercer’s physicians, Dr. Mack Bowman and Dr. Robert Shea, as near saints, but not even a miracle worker could help Mercer recover this time. With kidney problems and diabetes, compounded by congestive heart failure, Mercer was just too frail to make it.
But even at what was expected to be the end, Tommy still fought. With the family gathered round, and the machines indicating Tommy had already fled the mortal coil, the doctors turned off the ventilator keeping his body alive.
That was at 11:13 a.m. Wednesday, and everyone expected the end to come quickly and quietly. Tommy had other ideas: He lasted until 8:23 that night.
“He always did things his way,” Trent laughed through the tears.
That’s what I loved about him. He meant well, fought hard, and unlike far too many politicians, Mercer genuinely cared more about any good he could do than about any credit he would get for doing it.
Back when Mercer served on the Columbia County Commission, on several occasions he stopped by my office the day after a meeting just to chat. But he’d also want to know if I thought that maybe he’d gotten out of line with a comment the night before.
He usually had, I usually told him so, and he usually agreed. And he did it the same way the next time when his emotions got the better of him.
But even when he let himself get worked up over an issue, everyone knew he spoke from sincerity, not for show. Tommy Mercer just shared his emotions as generously as he shared his money and time, and that’s saying a lot.
Congestive heart failure might have contributed to Tommy’s demise. But I doubt anyone for one minute believes that giant-sized heart of his ever gave up.
May he rest in peace, may his family find comfort in their many fond memories, and may all of us strive to be as clear and compassionate as Tommy Mercer.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/