William Mercredi rarely used Facebook or any other social media, but following his passing, online forums were alight with tributes and kind words about the Fort Smith elder.
“I’ve been getting stories and condolences from all sorts of people,” said David Poitras, Mercredi’s brother-in-law.
On Oct. 4 witnesses discovered Mercredi deceased near the Fort Smith baseball diamond, a place he frequented. He was 67.
“We grew up there and I think he missed my parents,” said Martha. “He used to say, ‘I miss mama and papa.’ I think he just wanted to be close to them.”
Mercredi, a man of Chipewyan descent, was the youngest of 17 siblings. As a young lad, he was known for his athleticism and good nature.
“He and my brother Matthew, they used to run out to the dump and back, sometimes twice a day,” Martha said.
David said the run was about a 10-mile distance each way.
As a teenager, “Willie” learned how to spar like the pros, taking part in an initiative run by the territory to train young boxers. To find him, one just had to look to the old fire hall or in his living room, where other young athletes would collect to train together.
“It was something they were really pushing back in the day,” David said.
During a brief period of incarceration, Mercredi was pulled from the Yellowknife Correctional Institution to represent the territory at the first-ever Arctic Winter Games in 1970. He took home the gold medal for the 132 lb. weight class, earning him the nickname “Golden Gloves.”
His reputation as a boxer helped him make friends, and perhaps a little extra cash, when he joined the Navy and worked out of British Columbia in his early 20s.
Upon his return to Fort Smith, Mercredi used his boxing skills to connect with youth of the community, running lessons out of Uncle Gabe’s Friendship Centre when his nephews were of fighting age.
Following his Navy career Mercredi began to drink, heavily and often, Martha said. She never knew why.
“He said he was going to stay sober for seven years, and he did,” said Matthew Poitras, Mercredi’s nephew. “I don’t know why that was his goal, but he did it. Then, when he was in Yellowknife one time, he said he had one beer and that was it.”
When Mercredi was off the wagon, his family and friends were often there to help out, often giving him a bed to sleep in or taking him to the shelter in town.
“He really had nine lives,” Martha said.
In return for their kindness, he would tell a story or pay a compliment.
“He had a disease,” David said. “He was one of those cases where you have to separate the disease from the person. He really was a wonderful man.”
A friend to anyone
Mercredi is remembered by many in the community as someone who was funny, kind and a friend to anyone.
Poitras shared one particularly touching story with the Journal, from an employee at the Northern Lights Special Care Home, where he lived for the last few years of his life. It took place before he moved in.
Every so often, Mercredi would visit this employee out the back door of the kitchen. After gently rapping on the door and flashing a quick smile, he would be fed sandwiches along with nurturing sides of fresh fruit and whatever snacks were on the menu.
One day he entered through the front of the building, startling a new employee and causing them to call the police. He quickly retreated to his usual entrance but it was too late: police were already at the building.
As Mercredi was about to be carried away, the employee from the kitchen stopped the police officers and explained her friendship with him.
The officer, familiar with Mercredi, replied that not only would he take him to his favourite park near the town’s baseball diamond, but he would join the elderly fellow for lunch – if she would be so kind as to pack a second sandwich.
“They took really good care of him at Northern Lights,” Martha said. “They really care for him over there.”1 comment