I was at the Almont Community Park on a cold winter day when I first met Mike Mercier.
Already intimidated by my new job as a contributing writer for Tri-City Times, a job which included taking photos. I was a writer, after all, an beyond random vacation shots, I’d never spent much time behind a camera lens.
I was even more nervous when I found out I wasn’t the only reporter there. The other one—a burly looking man with a big beard and an even bigger presence, donning a cowboy hat and multiple cameras strapped to his body—was from “the competition down the street.”
I watched him move through the crowd with ease, snapping photo after photo with his long lens, contorting his body in all sorts of ways to get the best shot.
I was absolutely terrified—and woefully ill prepared—and felt completely on my own.
I was wrong.
The man behind “the competition’s” camera was Mike Mercier. On that frigid winter day he warmed up to me with kindness and compassion. He knew I didn’t know what I was doing behind the lens. It was agonizingly obvious. When I kneeled down and fumbled wildly (and in vain) in my bag for a fresh roll of film—yes, we used film in those days—I saw a smile wriggle at the corners of his mouth.
This big bear of a man moved toward me. He reached into the pocket of his photographer’s flak jacket and pulled out a roll of film. Kneeling, he extended his hand to me, offering the roll. Tears sprung to the corners of my eyes but I quickly brushed them away.
“Thanks,” I said, taking the gift, not knowing that Mike wasn’t done giving.
He motioned for me to follow as he moved across the cement floor of the park pavilion and crouched around a group of kids making crafts. He pointed his lens to demonstrate and said “This is the shot you want.”
He was right.
Mike Mercier continued to be a beacon of light for me throughout the 25-plus years I was blessed to know him. Whether we were together judging photography for 4-Hers at the fair, working on opposite and/or the same sides of the fence, Mike Mercier—without fail—was a kind, caring gentleman and gentle man who made the world a better place by being in it.
I join countless others in mourning his loss. And, like countless others I know his legacy lives on through his life’s work, his reverence of nature, and his devotion to the betterment of his fellow man.