Pinehurst resident remembered for advocacy, social justice efforts

by Keith Corcoran

  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>Bob Mertens, pictured in 2017, prior to a bike ride in support of the Canadian Red Cross.</p>
  • <p>SUBMITTED PHOTO</p><p>Bob Mertens, far right, with his son, Tucker, left, and Amnesty International&#8217;s Alex Neve in 2009.</p>

Albert Einstein reportedly described life as being "like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving."

Bob Mertens was continually riding his bicycle, trying to do what he could to keep the world in better balance. Sadly, on October 1, the 64-year-old cyclist from Pinehurst, Lunenburg County, was stopped in his tracks in a fatal collision with a truck on Highway 10 near Mossman Station Road in West Northfield, Lunenburg County.

Whether he felt he was an activist or not, Mertens, a self-employed cabinetmaker, pedalled his bicycle in support of social justice issues and gave of his time for causes he felt were right.

Years ago, he and one of his three sons, Tucker, trekked separate trips across Canada, and Argentina, on two-wheeled power and raised thousands of dollars for the human rights organization, Amnesty International. In 2013, Mertens undertook a solo fundraising bike trip for the group between his Lunenburg County home and Guatemala. His mission: to raise awareness about human rights abuses in that country, and the practices of Canadian mining companies with business interests there.

"Every time I heard from Bob, as he was coming back from one epic cycling tour or readying for the next, his conviction and beautiful sense of humanity was such a source of inspiration," Alex Neve, a senior advisor for Amnesty International Canada, and former secretary general of the group, told LighthouseNOW.

A long-time volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross, Mertens championed bike rides for the emergency social services charity to raise funds for programs.

"This wasn't volunteer service for Bob. It was simply a way of life, and the compass that directed him to many organizations," Tracey Clements, a coordinator of the Red Cross service centre in Bridgewater, explained to LighthouseNOW.

"From being an active participant in his community, working to reduce our environmental impact, to being a champion for human rights, Bob inspired us with his compassion." Mertens's help over nine years earned him a certificate of merit for his embodiment of the Red Cross mission.

His wife, Catherine, said her husband routinely biked to Bridgewater, 20 kilometres away, to run errands. On October 1, he had two stops: the library and a local mill where he wanted to order wood for a project he hoped to build with a friend and install at a municipal park.

Sometime during the lunch hour, the crash occurred in nearby West Northfield involving Mertens's bike and a truck. The matter is still under police investigation.

"An uncompromising activist doesn't always fit comfortably in his world, but we were very proud of him," Catherine told LighthouseNOW.

"He would think that a legacy was too grand an idea for him. He was fun, he loved his kids and his home life, he loved to ride his bike and work in the garden, listen to music, make beautiful furniture, read. He would want us to try to be kind to each other and accord everyone the dignity they deserve."

She and Mertens met when they were both working in theatre production. They married over 30 years ago, bought her mother's family home in Pinehurst and lived there since 1987.

"The best part of Bob's life, and the best thing in his world, was our three sons, Max, Adam and Tucker. He was so proud of what they have already done in their lives and what they have yet to do," Catherine added.

Mertens's sons alluded to their father's commitment to Extinction Rebellion, an environmental advocacy group. They were proud of his dedication and the fact he "didn't just talk the talk, he walked the walk." He also passed down to them his love of music and advice to finish what they start to the best of their abilities.

"He was a great cook – did all the cooking at home," Catherine recalled. "He also grew and raised as much food as he could on our property. He loved to travel, but it had to be on his terms – low impact, close to the ground, to experience the most of a new place and people."

Neve encountered Mertens at numerous Amnesty International events and remembers his "infectious smile and buoyant spirit."

"He embodies what is the very essence of universal human rights; that we all have a shared responsibility to stand up to injustice and work for a better world, and we each have our own gifts to bring to that struggle," Neve told LighthouseNOW. "Bob made us all better for being in our lives, and he will be sorely missed."

Mertens is survived by two sisters, in addition to his wife and three sons. There are no plans for a funeral service but donations in his memory can be made to Amnesty International, South Shore Public Library or a charity of choice.

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