A look back at some we lost in ‘22 

  • Nikki Mercier is pictured with her two sons. Mercier died on July 17 in Concord.

  • Ryan McGonigle sleone

  • Bryan Caruso, who broke all the power numbers at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., stands at the Concord Sports Center in Concord on Saturday, January 25, 2020

  • James Duggan

  • Rene Gagnon Jr. with the replica statue of the flag raising at Iwo Jima that his mother received.

  • Tom Houle was at the Chichester Grange Hall to support the candidacy of Richard Bouchard for selectman on Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

  • Hon. Claire Clarke, former state representative, Merrimack Valley School Board member and educator. Clarke died Jan. 15, 2022.

  • Claire Ebel with her grandchild.

  • Katherine Rogers

  • Rep. Renny Cushing, the House Democratic leader, is being treated for stage four prostate cancer. (Amanda Gokee | New Hampshire Bulletin)

  • spearson—Composite

Monitor columnist
Published: 12/30/2022 3:07:35 PM
Modified: 12/30/2022 3:04:40 PM

Some died suddenly this year. Others from a long bout with illness. And still others were really old and simply ran out of time.

They worked in the House and the Senate and other occupations that made them newsworthy. A State Supreme Court Justice. A giant in the American Civil Liberties Union. A pair of former baseball players.

They all made their presence felt. As the year comes to an end, we look at some of those who left us in 2022.

Bryan Caruso

Shocking news hit the baseball community here when Bryan Caruso of Concord – a star college ballplayer who dedicated his career to teaching kids how to hit – died suddenly in May.

Caruso was 42, married and had a 4-year-old son. His father, Fred Caruso, unsure of the exact cause of death in the days following, said Bryan died after suffering internal bleeding, which he traced to a similar episode six years ago.

Caruso hit long home runs, longer than anyone else he was competing against. Eric Duquette, Caruso’s former business partner and coach at the Concord Sports Center, called his dear friend “a beast.”

Caruso was a giant among scholastic players, hitting home runs 25 years ago at Winnisquam Regional on a regular basis, and later breaking most of the power records at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. Caruso, a catcher, is in the school’s Hall of Fame.

Once his pro career with two Massachusetts teams, unaffiliated with Major League Baseball, fizzled, his dream of being a big-league ballplayer ended.

Instead, he opened the Concord Sports Center – an intense program featuring practices, the teaching of fundamentals and travel tournaments – earned the reputation for being fair, smart and tough.

He retired in 2021, after 16 years.

Claire Clarke

Claire Clarke died on Jan 15, which happened to be Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Clarke developed Alzheimer’s disease toward the end of her life and died at the age of 92.

Her family said Clarke was inspired when she got a close look at King during a parade in the early 1960s. She dedicated her life to lifting women of color and making sure children were safe.

Her motives never steered far from the welfare of children. She served five terms in the House and served on the Education Committee. She was elected to the Merrimack Valley School district and served for 15 years.

She worked for 33 years as a guidance counselor at Winnisquam Regional High School in Tilton. She was a member of the NAACP, the Old Home Committee, Women in Government, the NH League of the Hard of Hearing and many other groups.

Renny Cushing

State Rep. Renny Cushing, champion of the left during his eight terms in the House, died in March from Stage 4 cancer. He was 67.

Cushing lived his political life in a way that seems strange these days. He was well-liked by his Republican colleagues.

“His service to the General Court made a real difference and he will be greatly missed,” said former Senate President Chuck Morse, a Republican from Salem, according to the Associated Press.

Cushing became a towering figure in liberal advocacy. In 1977, he co-founded the Clamshell Alliance – a new yet powerful agent in the fight to ban nuclear power – and was arrested, along with 1,400 other Clamshell allies, during a massive protest at the site of the power plant in Seabrook.

Through the years, Cushing never wavered in his belief system, even after his father was murdered in 1988. While others around him sought the death penalty for the crime, Cushing believed that the punishment would accomplish nothing.

Cushing took lessons from his experiences, which is why he founded Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights. After his bill to eliminate capital punishment finally passed the House in 2019, Cushing made his thoughts known, saying:

“If we let those who kill turn us into killers, then evil triumphs and we all lose. That does nothing to bring back our loved ones. All it does is widen the circle of violence.”

And despite different views, he extended an olive branch to the GOP and generally listened to the other side.

“He was a tireless and passionate advocate for New Hampshire,” Morse said told the AP. “His service to the General Court made a real difference and he will be greatly missed.”

Jim Duggan

Jim Duggan, the former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice who fought for Indigenous people and strengthened the state’s public defense system, died in August at the age of 79. His family said his health had been declining prior to his death.

Duggan was nominated for a seat in 2001 and remained on the bench until 2011. He was a professor at Frankin Pierce Law Center and helped expand the public defender’s program in the Granite State.

As part of the Appellate Defender Office, Duggan represented those appealing their convictions to the state’s highest court. When Duggan retired in 2011, former Chief Justice Linda Dalianis said Duggan was “the court’s first intellectual anchor.”

Claire Ebel

Claire Ebel, who died from dementia in April at the age of 79, was the director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union for more than 30 years.

In that time, Ebel attempted to portray the Civil Liberties Union as a non-partisan establishment, saying the group worked on a case-by-case basis.

Decades ago, Ebel supported a police officer who said he’d been fired because of his affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan. But anyone who knew Ebel knew she leaned hard left.

Ebel worked in the outer orbit of the presidential campaigns for Democrats for Robert Kennedy in 1968 and George McGovern in ‘72. She never talked about it much, never wanting to seem boastful.

She kept a lot to herself, including the cancer she had that required surgery. Her kids found out after she’d already had surgery.

Rene Gagnon Jr.

Rene Gagnon Jr. died in January at age 74, but not before an investigation using the latest technology showed that his father, Rene Gagnon, was not one of the six flag raisers at Iwo Jima in 1945.

The moment was captured by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal, showing six tired soldiers trying to raise the American flag on a mountaintop to give hope to the soldiers down on the beach.

Gagnon Jr. loved telling the story. But the Marines revisited the photo in 2019, using an outside agency and today’s technology to examine what might have been missed. They discovered that Gagnon was not in perhaps the most famous photo in American history. Instead, it was Harold “Pie” Keller of Iowa.

Gagnon was a gentle soul who never raised his voice or grew angry after the mistake had been corrected. But the sting he felt was obvious from his words.

Gagnon said he hadn’t seen the digital evidence used to prove that his father wasn’t one of the flag raisers, and until he did, he’d remain skeptical.

“I don’t have the technology to say whether or not that was my father,” Rene Jr. said shortly after the news broke.

Tom Houle

Tom Houle, who added color and drama to the Suncook Valley, more specifically Chichester, died from a heart attack in May at the age of 63.

Houle was a character. He graduated from Pembroke Academy and loved Harley-Davidson bikes, so he wore a pair of Harley wings on his gown.

Houle was not shy at town meetings, rising up quickly to offer a counterpoint and in the process annoying some of the residents in Chichester.

He opened Grateful Sleds, a motorcycle repair shop in town, a reference to the Grateful Dead, his favorite band. He repaired and restored Harleys and sold parts.

The burly man with a white, whispy beard and red face created an informal headquarters that residents, many wearing tie-dye Dead shirts, knew they could count on.

“It was a place to hang out, a 10-minute break from the deliveries of the day,” Rev. Mike Lowry of the East Congregation United Church of Christ said during his eulogy. “Relax before heading home for a lonely or tough life. It was a refuge with snarky sarcasm, a place of acceptance and characters.”

Ryan McGonigle

Two months later, the local baseball scene suffered another terrible setback when Ryan McGonigle died of a heart attack. He was 47.

McGonigle was a star pitcher at Concord High School and for the Concord American Legion Post 21 team. He devoted his later years to coaching on all levels of baseball, from the kids in Little League to the big boys in Legion and Senior Babe Ruth ball.

Before a tribute for McGonigle in July at Beaver Meadow Golf Course, McGonigle’s cousin, Kirk McGonigle, said, “You’ll see what he meant to people from the amount that will be here today. This will be the biggest thing I’ve ever been to. I already know that.”

He was right. Hundreds showed up, filling parking lots and grassy fields to the brim: eating, remembering and crying.

Nikki Mercier

A life filled with pain, uncertainty and inner demons came to an end when Nikki Mercier – a homeless woman who fought addiction her whole life – died at the age of 39.

She was found unconscious under the Loudon Road bridge, a common hang-out for the homeless. Police at the time suspected the cause of death to be an overdose.

Mercier came from the tough streets of Pittsfield. She dropped out of high school and later raised two children.

But she was always troubled, addicted to alcohol and opioids and nearly dying from an overdose before. She slept in freezing temperatures. Her parents died seven years apart.

“She just got lost after her parents passed away,” said Tonia Joy, a childhood friend and neighbor.

“She tried,” said Jody Mercier, Nikki’s sister. “She really did. I don’t think she wanted to die.”

Katherine Rogers

Democratic Rep. Kathy Rogers, a Heights native who never turned away from a good political fight, died on April 10 following her struggle with cancer.

She fought for her constituents, focusing on the abuse of women and children. She fought for animals and the abuse they often endured. She fought for her party, never shy to expose her liberal roots to the other side of the aisle.

She served eight years on the Concord City Council and eight on the New Hampshire House of Representatives, and five terms on the Merrimack County Commission.

Known for her passion and spirit, Rogers, already dying from cancer, shaved her head in October of 2021 to raise money for the Pope Memorial SPCA. She had created a distraction, away from her health problems, using humor to ease everyone’s pain.

Rep. Safiya Wazir, Democrat from Concord who fled Afghanistan, received support from Rogers, who saw Wazir as the perfect promoter of diversification. Wazir became the first refugee elected to the House.

“She was a fighter,” Wazir said, “and that’s how I got to know that she was the right person that I got connected to.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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