As much as death is inevitable, the conclusion to our lives depends on how we live. Cam Merkeley’s “celebration of life” yesterday evening showed how life can be lived well, as hundreds of friends, family members and business colleagues gathered at an Ottawa-area golf club to pay respects, share memories and (although not intentionally) network.
Merkley, who died on Aug. 21 at 86, founded Merkely Supply Ltd. in 1959 after selling his family’s brick-making business (a long-successful family-owned company that traces its roots to the Great Depression and before) for enough money that he would never need to work another day in his life. He decided that this would not be a good way to live, so started a new building supply business from scratch. Don Chutter, who served on associations with Merkley for several years, recalls that Merkley innovated by developing the first variations of the “boom truck” to allow supplies to be lifted to higher floor levels — saving time and money. Merkely also used some of his capial with friend and contractor Bill Burnside to start Merkburn Holdings Ltd., a successful property and commercial development company.
Merkley’s son, Robert, assumed responsibility for the business in 1978, the same year that Merkley Supply moved to its current location at 100 Bayview Road. Robert set about set about converting the company’s manual business processes to computers between 1978 and 1980, and Merkley was the first building supply yard in Ottawa to be fully automated, the MSL website says. “This dramatically improved the company’s efficiencies in customer service and inventory management.”
Under Robert’s guidance, Merkley Supply focused on masonry and related supplies, growing into the region’s largest masonry boutique. Today, Merkley employs 40 full-time staff – many of whom have been with the company for decades – and carries some 7,000 brick, stone, masonry and specialty building materials. Cam Merkely and Bill Burnside remained involved in the business, visiting the yard a few times a week.
In addition to son Robert, Cam Merkley is survived by his wife Marion (Barber), and sons Ian, John and daughter Christy, with their grandchildren, as well as nieces, nephews and other relatives.
While undoubtedly the family is grieving, there were no tears at the celebration of life yesterday evening. Merkley contributed to his community — through Rotary Club and Ottawa Construction Association Leadership as well as other community and charitable initiatives. More importantly, he proved the qualities of a successful local business, both in its on viability but in his ability to transition to the next generation.
This is success beyond monetary consideration and is truly worth celebrating, even in death.