The hamlet of Rankin Inlet has lost another community leader and council member to cancer with the passing of Coun. Justin Merritt, 64, this past month.
Merritt had fought a long and courageous battle before succumbing to the deadly disease on Dec. 27.
Rankin lost its previous mayor, Robert Janes, on May 15, 2019, after a long illness with cancer.
Merritt was the hamlet’s senior administrative officer at the time of Janes’s passing.
In a written statement, current Mayor Harry Towtongie noted that Merritt had been actively involved with the municipality in various capacities for more than 30 years.
“He (Merritt) served his community with great dedication during this time and always worked in the best interest of the residents of Rankin Inlet,” wrote Towtongie.
“He will be deeply missed.”
Known as an honest, dedicated, family loving, hard working, no nonsense type of guy, Justin was always heavily involved with the robust hockey scene in Rankin and beyond in one form or another.
I was fortunate enough to have interacted with Justin professionally numerous times during my more than two decades as editor of Kivalliq News, and the man was always a true professional no matter what subject was being discussed, but it was during our time together as hockey officials where I got to know him best.
And it is from where my fondest memories of the man will always reside next to my heart.
Away from the public eye, to say Justin (I never felt comfortable calling him by his nickname, Dusty, for some reason) was a bit of a character is more than a bit of an understatement.
The man had a zany, off-the-wall sense of humour that often had those in the dressing room (or hotel room during a road trip) cracking up with laughter.
I’ve been around the game of hockey as a player, coach and official since the age of five, and Justin was the fastest person I’ve ever seen going from street clothes to hockey gear and vice-versa.
I swear the man had hidden Velcro straps that allowed him to step out of his street clothes with one deft flick of the wrist and return to them in record-breaking fashion.
He was so fast that the sweat would literally fall from his gear onto the dressing room floor as he walked away.
For those who may not know, Justin Merritt was one heck of a cook. The sweetest deal a fellow official could make while working a road tournament with Justin was to volunteer to clean up the eating area and wash the dishes if he agreed to cook.
That man could do more with bacon and eggs – down home style – than the most clever of cooks in the fanciest of hotels, in my humble opinion.
There were mornings I woke to the heavenly sizzle of Justin’s magic in the kitchen, and literally floated down the hotel hallway, eyes closed and goofy smile on my face, until I arrived at the table, fork in hand and drool on chin, ready to dig in.
One never begrudged washing a dish in exchange for one of Justin’s tummy-filling creations.
Justin always spoke his mind and was often hilarious without even knowing it.
One year, he, Donald Clark and I travelled to Arviat to officiate the annual Calm Air Cup (Jon Lindell Memorial) senior tourney.
I had scheduled Justin and I to work the final game of the round robin late Saturday night. The game pitted Arviat’s youthful Young Guns squad — winless in about five years at the event — against Arviat’s ‘B’ team.
Justin was convinced walking to the arena that the game was going to be a mercy rule (one team down by seven or more goals at the end of the second period or any time during the third) and I had spared Donald the experience because we had officiated together longer.
In fact, he couldn’t see any reason to play the game at all and gave it to me pretty good every step of the way to the rink.
Well, the Young Guns’ goalie stood on his head and the team earned its first win in the tourney in overtime, I believe. The crowd was going wild in support of the young team and it turned out to be one heck of a hockey game.
All the way back to the hotel, Justin thanked me for giving him the game and told me of the funny feeling he had in his stomach that this could end up being the upset of the tourney.
Besides, it looked good on Donald to miss such a great game just for a few extra hours of sleep. I never stopped chuckling the rest of the tournament and will never forget our walk together that night.
He was the first guy awake in the morning to cook an extra special breakfast but, as I recall, burning Donald’s bacon that morning was the only time I ever saw him make a mistake in the kitchen.
I could write pages of Justin memories if space permitted but, suffice to say, he was one heck of a guy who was liked and respected everywhere I travelled with the man.
I am proud to say he was my friend.
Keep your whistle dry up there, Stripes!