Son pays tribute to Portsmouth father who has died fromCovid-19 in coronavirus pandemic

Merrick Burrell – a loving and much-loved family man – worked in Portsmouth all his life, and devoted hours of time to local good causes. He succumbed to Covid-19 at Queen Alexandra Hospital last month. Here his son Ian, a national newspaper columnist, remembers his kind and caring father… and urges us to remember that behind every coronavirus statistic is a human life.

Friday, 10th April 2020, 6:00 am
Merrick Burrell as a grandfather

If you sit on the North Lower at Fratton Park, somewhere close to the halfway line, then you might well have seen or met my dad, who sat in Block F seat M123.

You might have met him up at Hampshire’s Rose Bowl, or played cricket against him during his long years at the crease for Portsmouth Rovers.

If you did your Christmas shop at Morrison’s in Anchorage Park or Tesco at Cosham, you may have seen him outside, shaking a bucket for local causes, sometimes dressed as Santa.

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(back third from right) Merrick Burrell with family in Bognor

Some of you will have bought the home you live in through him because for 40 years he worked as an estate agent from Waterfield & Stanford’s office, his desk looking out onto the busy London Road in North End, the neighbourhood where he was born and where he raised his family. My dad, Merrick, was a kind man and I like to think he made a lot of dreams come true.

He served Cosham Rotary for 35 years. Younger people might have benefited from his generous counsel and sound judgment during his time as a governor of Crookhorn school. He was a fine grandfather too.

Until the start of last month, dad was full of vigour, enjoying meals out at Gunwharf Quays and walks on Southsea seafront or out at Stansted Forest.

But in his final days, after coronavirus struck him down, he disappeared from the sight of even my mother Julia, his loving wife of nearly 59 years. From the moment the ambulance arrived in the early morning of Sunday, March 22 to take him to Queen Alexandra hospital, no-one was allowed to visit him. Neither could we call him.

Merrick and his grandson

In better times, dad knew QA well - he walked the wards of that great Portsmouth institution with a trolley of books and conversing with patients as a Rotary library volunteer.

The staff did their best for him. He was sedated in the ICU and put on a ventilator to buy time. But this virus was too vicious. After five days, when his body was left to fend for itself, he passed away.

As a family we are now trying to arrange a funeral service under the most trying circumstances.

Dad was a popular man but numbers will be limited to single figures. Instead of the usual embraces and handshakes, we relatives must keep our distance.

Merrick Burrell at home

For my mum, this must be so very hard. For 14 days, since the ambulance came, we have all been anxiously counting off the period of self-isolation she has had to endure, grieving alone in the Farlington home where she nursed dad for a fortnight when he was fighting the pain of this cruel disease.

We have not been able to go through the family albums together. Mum has still not had a hug from anyone. One consolation is that, on the day dad died, I was able to sit near her, two metres from her conservatory door, as we called my sister Claire in London with my phone on speaker. For two hours we expressed our tributes and gratitude to dad, addressing him as if he could hear us, even though he was a couple of miles away in the ICU. Soon after we ended the call, QA called and told us he had slipped away while we were pouring out our love.

It’s also comforting to me that at dad’s 80th birthday, nearly five years ago at the Brookfield hotel in Emsworth, I made a long speech in his presence, telling him how thankful I was for all that he had done for me and how I admired him as a man. With this virus at large, I urge you all to take the opportunity to tell your loved ones that you love them, in case - God forbid - you should lose them.

This coronavirus nightmare has been largely reported in terms of statistics, the horrifying death toll that grows each day. But the people we are losing are real and we must think of the human cost of this tragedy as we live among each other and try to abide by the rules of lockdown.

Merrick and Julia with their grandson

My dad was an early victim, taken ill on March 7. Five days earlier he had attended Pompey’s cup tie with Arsenal. We had our tickets for the EFL Trophy final and dad was so excited about going to Wembley on April 5. It would have been our seventh trip there together to watch the Blues.

We have never known anything like coronavirus. It is the stuff of dystopian horror movies and seems otherworldly. But the people whose lives it claims are very real. Some of them, sadly, are members of our own community.

But we will come through this. And when we do, dad’s family and friends will come together at a service at Christ Church, Portsdown, the church where he and mum were married, and we will celebrate his wonderful life.

Merrick and Julia
Merrick and Ian Burrell, Wembley 2008.
Merrick at Wembley 2010
Merrick Burrell with wife Julia Picture: Ian Burrell