Causey says goodbye to fire chief

By Kevin Wilson

DORA — The community of Causey, and a community of emergency personnel, said goodbye to Hank Merrick — a mayor, a fire chief, and “a partner” to many.
Merrick died Saturday of a heart attack at the age of 68. Due to the large number of people paying their respects, services were held at Guy Luscombe Gymnasium.
To the citizens of Causey, Hank Merrick was Causey.
“He was the center of the community,” said Willard Heck, the Causey Fire Department’s equipment manager. “Within a quarter-mile of the crossroads was the fire department, his hardware store and his house. If you needed something, you went to Hank.”
Merrick was the fire chief at Causey for 39 years. Those who knew him best said they could always count on seeing Merrick’s habits and hearing his quotes.
“Hank always said at the end of every run, ‘We’ll see you on the next big one,’” said CFD assistant chief Kenneth Cox.
They saw him on other occasions, as well. Merrick ran a hardware store near the fire department for the last 20 years, and he would often spend his free time welding yard signs for community members.
“If the kids needed a bike tire to be fixed, he was the one to fix it,” said Kris King, who has been with the department for five years.
His efforts weren’t limited to Causey, and it was evident to anybody that came to the Wednesday service. Lined up outside the gymnasium were about 25 vehicles from various law enforcement and emergency service departments across New Mexico and Texas.
As Portales Fire Department Battalion Chief John Bridges explained, each of those vehicles represented a department that had worked with Merrick in one way or another.
Over 25 years, Bridges considered Merrick a co-worker, a mentor and a friend.
“He was always very friendly,” Bridges said. “He liked to meet new people.”
Bridges worked with Merrick during many accidents, usually grass fires. Bridges said that Merrick’s personality made incidents easier for his co-workers and the victims of the incidents.
“You have to deal with (panicked people) whatever the situation is,” Bridges said. “I think (Merrick’s) personality traits … made him well-received. Having someone with that personality helps you get through it.”
His personality wasn’t limited to helping victims, though. Ann Clark, the emergency medical services director for Causey, felt she never would have been able to work for 19 years without Merrick around for encouragement.
“When my son (Clinton) died in 1993, he was very supportive and he was very instrumental in helping me in the EMS and fire department because I was ready to give up,” Clark said. “He just told me I can do it.”
Merrick had many habits, including a love for fried catfish and an adherence to phrases like, “Help someone in their time of need” and “To each his own.”
During the service, Portales Medical Investigator Carolyn Speshock said she could always count on two other phrases. Each conversation, Speshock said, would begin with, “Hey, partner,” and include, “Stay beautiful,” before it was over.
“He was my boss,” Speshock said, “but if I ever referred to him as my boss in conversation, he would correct me by saying that we were partners.”
Merrick had been an emergency medical technician since 1983, and received the Cardiac Save Award in 1996. He was the Moulage Artist for Region III EMS, a member of the New Mexico National Disaster Team that served in the Virgin Islands after Hurricane Hugo, a Causey city councilman for numerous years, and had recently been appointed mayor.
He served on the Causey and Dora school boards for 18 years. Since 1994, he was a deputy medical examiner in Roosevelt County.
Merrick died about three months into an appointed term as Causey mayor. He was appointed after the previous mayor, Eldon Merrick, moved to Portales.
“He was always interested in serving others and making someone feel at home in the community,” said Eldon Merrick, who was Hank Merrick’s second cousin. “He was really good at that.”
Other family members could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Merrick has been replaced by Geneva Judah as the mayor for now, but some aren’t sure how the many other facets of Merrick will be replaced.
“It’s hard on my kids, it’s hard on all of us,” King said. “He was the backbone of the community. If you had a question, you asked Hank.”