Sackville’s Wendell Meldrum, who had a prestigious law and political career in New Brunswick spanning several decades, has died.
Meldrum – who started a law practice in the community in 1948, served as the town solicitor in the early 1960s and then began a remarkable political career under Louis J. Robichaud before moving on to become a provincial court judge – passed away last Wednesday, Feb. 13 at the age of 88 following a lengthy illness.
Local residents remember Meldrum as a “strong voice in the cabinet and in the community.”
Wallie Sears, a longtime Sackville Tribune-Post correspondent and a fellow Liberal, said Meldrum will long be remembered for the role he played in “the creation of modern-day New Brunswick.”
While serving in cabinet during the Robichaud years, Meldrum was a motivating force behind the Equal Opportunity Program, a move that revolutionized the province, said Sears.
Prior to the implementation of the Equal Opportunity Program, New Brunswick's health and education systems were governed and funded by county governments. The result was far superior social systems in the well-to-do areas while others were left sorely lacking. Under the Equal Opportunity program, county governments were dissolved and the provincial government assumed responsibility for education and health care.
“This really lifted the load off of some of those communities . . . and brought large parts of New Brunswick away from near bankruptcy,” he said.
Sears said Meldrum – as Minister of Education, Minister of Health and Minister of Justice during his term in office – never backed away from implementing these necessary changes, even in the face of violent opposition from many corners of the province.
“We wouldn’t know the New Brunswick we know today if these changes hadn’t happened,” he said.
Retired Senator Marilyn Trenholme Counsell, also a fellow Liberal as well as a family friend and physician, agrees that Meldrum’s contributions were significant during his time in political office, making a profound difference in the life of New Brunswickers.
“He was at the heart of many changes Robichaud brought in,” she said.
Meldrum was also a strong community volunteer throughout the years, having served as president of the Kinsmen Club, the Rotary Club, the Sackville Golf Club and the Royal Canadian Legion, as well as a leader for the local Scouts.
Trenholme Counsell said she was always admired Meldrum for his ability to balance his life – being able to contribute so greatly to the community and to politics while also making sure he made time for his family.
“He was remarkably true to himself and his values,” she said. “He was just such a complete person”
Sears said he couldn’t agree more.
“He was a great husband, a great father and a just a great citizen in the community.”
Meldrum, who was born in Simpson's Corner, N.S. in 1924, enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force on the day he graduated from Bridgewater High School in 1944. He served as a ferry pilot during the Second World War, where he met his wife Dorothy Downey.
After the war, he went on to Dalhousie Law School, graduating in 1948. Following graduation, he moved to Sackville, where he set up a law practice.
In the early 1960s, he also served as the town solicitor for the town of Sackville and sat on the Byrne Commission.
Following the sudden death of local MLA Donald Harper in 1965, Meldrum was asked to fill the vacancy and sit in Premier Robichaud’s cabinet as attorney general. He won a seat in the next by-election and became Minister of Education the following year. Robichaud’s government’s was defeated in 1970 but Meldrum continued on and successfully contested his seat and sat as an opposition member in the house until 1974.
He practiced law again briefly in Sackville before being appointed a county court judge in 1976, also later serving as a Court of Queen’s Bench judge. Meldrum retired for health reasons nearly 20 years later.
The funeral service was held on Monday, Feb. 18 at the Middle Sackville Baptist Church.