Santa Claus should be resting today from a night of heavy labor.
Instead, hes laid up in University Hospital, poked full of tubes and surrounded by beeping, flashing machines.
Columbia County Commissioner Tom Mercer this past weekend underwent open-heart surgery after doctors found blockages in five arteries. To make matters more complicated, they only discovered the need for heart surgery as they were checking for problems with Mercers kidneys; that diagnosis is now put on hold, while Mercer - hopefully - heals from having his chest opened.
Mercer has been a county commissioner just since 2000, but for many years he has been Santa Claus, donning the beard and red suit at Christmastime to volunteer anywhere hes asked to come.
Mercer absolutely glows when he talks about the smiles that almost involuntarily leap from children and adults alike when they see the jolly old elf. And he chokes up when he describes the stories of deprived or hurting children who have such heartfelt, but impossible, requests - like getting their parents back together, or bringing a new baby brother to replace the one who didnt make it.
oys are easy. Its people who are hard. But there isnt a hard spot anywhere in Mercers body.
Oh, sure, some hardheads obsessed with the stormwater utility grumble about Mercer, but they grumble about everything. Mercer, whom Ive tweaked before as having perhaps the worst public-speaking voice of any local elected official - hes gravelly and hard to understand - can certainly get his message across one-on-one.
And that message reveals him to be one of the kindest, most considerate people Ive ever met. Heres just a little example: Mercer read the account a couple of months ago of two groups of kids coming forward to help those in need. At Lakeside High School, students and teachers were raising money for the family of LHS teacher Kathy Ferko, who died just a few days later of breast cancer. And students at Lakeside Middle were raising money for the family of Ania Yarish, the Martinez toddler who will forever be recovering from a liver transplant.
The day after that story ran, Mercer walked into my office and said simply, That story touched me, and I want to help. He then wrote two checks, one for each fund-raiser, and asked me if Id pass them along. Just like that, simple and heartfelt.
Its hard to believe a heart that good could need surgery, but there it is. So Santa Claus is recovering, spending Christmas at University Hospital. He cant sit on his own lap to make a Christmas request, so heres one better made from the knees: Please say a prayer for Tom Mercer.
Bringing baby home
One of Mercers former cohorts could use a few kind words with the man upstairs, too. State Rep.-elect Barry Fleming, a former county commissioner, is spending Christmas in Russia.
Fleming and his wife, Paige, are there to adopt a baby boy. The process has dragged for months through the Russian bureaucracy, apparently no less cumbersome since the fall of the Soviet Union. The Harlem couple was to bring little Zach home this summer, but kept getting put on hold. In fact, Barry and Paige were to have been in Russia at the end of October - possibly being kept out of the country during the Nov. 5 election in which Fleming was elected to the state House.
Instead, theyve been delayed, flying out of the country last Friday. Fleming hopes to get a waiver to a rule requiring a 10-day wait, and to be back home by the New Year.
And they do, indeed, ask for prayers as they seek to bring their baby home.
Merry Christmas to all.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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