Jack O’Rourke knows a thing or two about fish.
It’s probably fair to say the St. Lawrence native never thought he would become one, however, or half of one more accurately.
O’Rourke, a senior biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in St. John’s for close on 30 years, is December’s “eye broccoli” for the 2019 Merb’ys calendar.
“It was quite the experience,” O’Rourke recently told The Southern Gazette.
The Merb’ys – and their calendars – have been something of a sensation in Newfoundland and Labrador the past couple of years.
The calendar is an initiative of the Newfoundland and Labrador Beard and Moustache Club, which was formed in 2017. The club describes itself on its website as “a social club for community minded, good humans who just happen to appreciate facial hair.”
They also place an emphasis on giving back to the community, and the calendars, in which participants don fish tails to hilariously transform into a “merb’y,” are an amusing, playful means of doing so.
Funds raised from the sale of its 2018 and 2019 calendars were donated by the club.
The first one raised about $300,000 for Spirit Horse NL, a mental health charity in the province, while the most recent campaign brought in $202,000 for Violence Prevention Newfoundland and Labrador.
It was these good deeds that led O’Rourke to apply for the 2019 calendar last year – well, that and the fact he admired the “guts” it took the previous year’s participants to bare themselves for all to see.
“It’s, basically, all in fun,” O’Rourke says. “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you know, life is pretty dull.”
O’Rourke believes it’s important for one to be involved in their community. He has volunteered his time with a number of community organizations and service groups over the years and has been involved in other activities, as well.
It’s a feature of his personality that was imparted to him growing up in St. Lawrence.
O’Rourke says his father was a member of the local Lions Club as well as the volunteer fire department and was also big into the town’s annual Mardi Gras celebration, a community tradition in St. Lawrence featuring musical performances and skits that began 59 years ago.
“Whenever I get a chance to put a little bit back into the community, I give it a try,” he says.
Participating in the calendar also gave O’Rourke a new appreciate for modelling.
“Being a model is not as easy as it looks,” he laughed.
For the 2019 Merb’ys calendar, photoshoots took place across the province. O’Rourke had some schedule trouble but was able to arrange to do a shoot with fellow Merb’y Jeff Blackwood, a parish priest with the Anglican Church based in Grand Falls-Windsor, at Glassy Beach in Springdale.
“Being a model is not as easy as it looks." — Jack O'Rourke
“We really enjoyed doing the shoot, I must say,” he said.
O’Rourke has no regrets about showing off his stout physique for all the world to see, and although the application process for the 2020 calendar has closed, he encourages others to try out for future Merb’ys calendars if they are so inclined.
“It’s always for a good cause,” he says.
The tale of his tail
Jack O’Rourke had some help from his colleagues at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in St. John’s in making his Merb’ys’ tail.
O’Rourke says they went through the department’s database of humpback whales.
“I found one I liked and we sort of projected it on the floor and they traced it out,” he explained.
“It was pretty interesting the way they done it.”
O’Rourke says he’s been recognized a few times since his appearance in the 2019 calendar.
Most recently he had just gotten off his motorcycle in Goulds and was sitting down having a cup of tea.
“Somebody came up and said, ‘You’re one of the Merb’ys, aren’t ya?” he laughed.
About the Newfoundland and Labrador Beard and Moustache Club
- Formed in 2017.
- A social community service group with no membership dues, the club hosts monthly social events and group volunteer events that are always open to the public.
- All genders, ethnicities, faiths, abilities and ages are welcome to join. Ability to grow facial hair is also irrelevant, the club says – it’s the beard inside that matters most.
- The club, an associate member of the North American Competitive Beard and Moustache Alliance, hopes to bring competitive facial hair contests to Newfoundland and Labrador.
- Visit the club’s website at nlbmc.com.