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Merrill Lochhead: an inspiring leader, teacher and friend

by Vanessa Novini

I recall the day I walked into Merrill's office in the late 1990s holding a copy of Homemaker's magazine with an intriguing piece on exercises for the core. I asked "So, have you ever heard of Pilates (I pronounced the first two letters 'pie')?" She smiled and corrected my mispronunciation and went on to tell me that she did Pilates throughout her dance career. The light bulbs turned on over our heads and we immediately decided that we would find a studio, get our teaching certification and introduce Pilates at the recreational facility where we taught fitness classes. Following our conversation Merrill embarked on her Pilates journey, which began with the STOTT PILATES® Mat program in Toronto.

Merrill's world centered on dance and fitness. She was a principal dancer with the Atlantic Ballet Theatre and Pacific Ballet Theatre, held two gold medals in the Canadian Aerobics Championships and represented Canada at the world level. She lived and worked in Asia and South America and taught fitness in Ottawa. In 2000, Merrill realized her dream of owning and operating a Pilates studio. She operated her studio until this past December.

Merrill died in Ottawa, Ontario on January 3, 2015, at age 53 from liver failure. After a long, exhausting fight she succumbed to cancer.

Merrill was one of three children of Patricia and the late Kenneth Lochhead; when her father remarried she gained three sisters. Merrill's father was one of the 'Regina Five' painters who first showed his work in 1961 at the National Gallery. He was considered to be at the forefront of modernist art in Canada. He also taught at colleges and universities across the country.

Like her father, Merrill was a teacher and Pilates was her passion. She was a STOTT PILATES Certified Instructor and Trainer. She was dedicated and it showed in how happy she was when she taught, and how much she missed it when she couldn't.

Following difficult chemotherapy treatments, she looked forward to returning to teaching. Teaching allowed her to step away, albeit temporarily, from her cancer and resume what she enjoyed doing most.

Teaching Pilates gave her joy that showed in the smiles and laughter she shared while giving a class. Everyone came to know her trademark '1000-watt' smile and her whole-hearted laugh. And her sense of humour was unforgettable.

Merrill once shared a list of 10 reasons why we do Pilates. The first nine were textbook answers and the last was pure Merrill: to look good naked!

But beyond the humour she infused in her teaching and training, she was serious about helping people through Pilates. Echoing how many who came to her felt, a client once said "I am so thankful to have met Merrill. Through Pilates she is helping me to cope with daily pain from arthritis in my spine."

Quite simply, she cared. It showed in her teaching. It showed in how she designed personal programs. It showed in her careful selection of exercises.

She listened to her clients and did her best to address their needs.

Merrill also did her best to help and support her instructors. She was always available to answer questions, to discuss proper exercise technique and modifications, and to attend and evaluate a class. When she ran a workshop you didn't want to miss it. What she shared was constructive and honest, and you knew that she just wanted to help you be a better instructor.

Merrill is survived by her two children Alyssa and Brendan Boissineau. She was private about her personal life, but the little she did share about her children spoke volumes about how important they were to her.

Merrill is no longer with us yet so much of Merrill lives on. She helped many with her teaching; she inspired many to teach better; and we will always remember how selflessly she did both.

A special "Pilates Day in honor of Merrill" will be held at the Gladstone Sports and Health Centre, 18 Louisa Street (2nd floor) in Ottawa on Sunday, April 12, 2015. All proceeds will be donated to a trust fund for Merrill's children.

Activities start at 9:30 a.m. with a STOTT PILATES® CEC workshop, Matwork Strength and Mobility. This two-hour workshop will be taught by Instructor Trainer Brigitte Robitaille of Studio Praxis Pilates in Montreal, with 100 per cent of funds raised going to The Brendan and Alyssa Boissineau Trust Fund. The workshop is open to any fitness or wellness professional or Pilates instructor. Participants will receive 0.2 STOTT PILATES CECs. Pre-registration is required. The tuition fee is a $140CDN donation in cash or cheque made payable to "Brendan and Alyssa Boissineau, In Trust."

Afternoon sessions are open to Pilates lovers and exercise enthusiasts, new and seasoned! Try The Essential Matwork Class at 1:00 p.m. if you want a return to the basic principles of STOTT PILATES. Or, try the Intermediate/Advanced Matwork Class at 2:30 p.m. to ramp up the pace and experience some fresh choreography. Participants must be at least 12 years of age. A minimum donation of $25 is requested, however any amount above $25 is greatly appreciated. Donations can be made by cash or cheque made payable to "Brendan and Alyssa Boissineau, In Trust." Participants are asked to bring their own mat.

There will be opportunities to connect with Merrill's family and colleagues throughout the day. We conclude with a draw for a STOTT PILATES gift basket generously donated by our partners, Merrithew™.

The trust fund account for donations to Merrill's children is now in place. If you wish to contribute, you have two options:

Contributions can be made as a direct deposit at any Scotiabank or as a transfer from another bank (fees may apply for transfers). The account number is: 40576 0302821. The account name is: Brendan & Alyssa Boissineau, In Trust.

Alternatively, you can issue a cheque payable to "Brendan & Alyssa Boissineau, In Trust" and mail it to Allan Lochhead, 155 King St. E., Kingston, ON K7L 2Z9.