Dr. Merv Johnson roasted as he retires

There were many laughs, as well as a few tears, shared during the retirement roast for Dr. Merv Johnson May 17 at the Meadow Lake Civic Centre. Johnson is calling it a career after 42 years of service to the people of Meadow Lake and surrounding communities. Here, Johnson is pictured with his wife, Blanche, and two of the couple’s three sons, Blaine (second from right) and Dana. Conrad (Tigger), the couple’s oldest son, now resides in Ottawa and was unable to attend.

by Phil Ambroziak

Dr. Mervin Johnson has been diagnosed as a caring, compassionate, irreplaceable and unforgettable man.

Those were only a few of the words used by friends and colleagues to describe Johnson during a retirement roast and celebration held in the doctor’s honour May 17 at the Meadow Lake Civic Centre. Johnson is officially hanging up his stethoscope and calling it a career after 42 years of service to Meadow Lake and surrounding communities.

With his wife, Blanche, two of his three sons, as well as scores of friends in attendance, Johnson shared some emotional thoughts on his career and the positive impact the community has had on his life.

“What an adventure this has been,” he said. “When I came here in 1970, I was fresh out of school, naive, knew everything and all I saw was disease. A few years later, I started seeing you as people. Then, about 15-20 years ago, you became my friends. It really is hard to believe a whole lifetime boils down to something like this.”

Johnson graduated from the University of Saskatchewan (where he met his future wife) in 1969 and came to Meadow Lake in May 1970.

“We love this place, not just you as people but this community for everything it offers,” Johnson continued.

Blanche Johnson described her husband’s retirement as being “a long time in coming.”

“Some have suggested I finally won in terms of this decision, but Merv is his own man with his own mind,” she said. “This was totally his decision, but I will add it’s about time.”

Being a roast, the evening featured a series of jokes and comical anecdotes at the expense of both Dr. Johnson and others. Everyone who spoke, however, also provided examples of the love and respect they have for Johnson.

“Three years ago, when we said farewell to Dr. Peter Kapusta, I twisted Merv’s arm to take the position of chief of staff, and I’m sure he accepted the role and its responsibilities out of a strong sense of duty and concern for the hospital,” noted David Fan, CEO of the Prairie North Regional Health Authority. “I’m sure if it were up to Merv, he would say yes to everything – that’s the type of guy he is. Luckily, Blanche saves him from committing too much of himself to everyone.”

Fan also acknowledged the sold out crowd in attendance.

“Merv, judging by the size of this crowd tonight, there’s either not a hell of a lot to do in Meadow Lake on a Thursday evening or it means we’re all here to celebrate a wonderful man and a wonderful career in medicine,” he said. “You are… an icon in this community.”

Dr. Jake Letkeman, one of Johnson’s original colleagues when he came to Meadow Lake, said Johnson has earned the respect of the community because of the respect he’s always shown to the community and its residents.

“You see what you get when you look at Merv – a generous man who will never change,” Letkeman said. “He’s your friend, he’s your doctor, he’s your brother, whatever you want him to be. But, he’s real, he’s genuine.”

Dr. Peter Kapusta described the impact Johnson had on his life as “enormous.”

“To me, you’re a role model, a teacher, a friend and a brother,” Kapusta said. “I’ve learned so much from you and you have been supportive in so many ways. Your retirement definitely leaves a hole in the medical community of Meadow Lake.”

Several other roasters took to the stage as the evening progressed, all expressing their admiration for Johnson.

“It’s been a great evening,” Blanche Johnson noted. “We’re so delighted with all these friends – it’s overwhelming.”

She also assured Meadow Lake will always be home to the Johnsons.

“We’re glad God moved us up here to Meadow Lake,” she said. “You won’t get rid of us that easily.”

“I am so thankful of the community, the staff at the hospital, my fellow doctors and my children,” Dr. Johnson added. “Blanche, you are the love of my life. You’ve kept me together, kept me focused, you are my best friend and we’re going to have a great retirement together. And, to all of you, we love you and goodbye.”

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