Thomas Curry Merchant, Jr., a former newspaper owner and publisher, passed away peacefully in Highlands, N.C., on December 5, 2012, at the age of 96.
He was a resident of Madison for 82 years and of Highlands, N.C. for 14 years.
Survivors include his four children, Shirley Merchant Johnson (Jim), of Highlands, N.C., Mae Merchant Clark (Larry Lokken), of Gainesville, Thomas Curry Merchant III and Mary Anthony Merchant, Ph.D. (John Green), both of Atlanta, Ga.; three grandchildren, William Burton Clark V (Danielle) of Chapel Hill, N.C., Corrie Elizabeth Clark, Ph.D. (Andy Turner) of Washington, D.C., and Major Christopher D. Wills, USMC (Julie); and five great-grandchildren, Gavin Thomas Clark, Selwyn Taylor Clark, Sayge Clark Turner, Olivia Taylor Wills and Thomas Christopher Wills.
Thomas Curry Merchant, Jr. was born April 2, 1916 in Madison, the only child of Mae Talmadge McKeithen Merchant and Thomas Curry Merchant, Sr. In 1938, he received a B.A. in Journalism from the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida. At Florida, he was the manager of the band and a member of Theta Chi fraternity. He graduated from the University of Florida College of Law in 1939 and was admitted to the Florida Bar. In 1943, he graduated from the Harvard Business School with a Masters in Business Administration.
During World War II, he was stationed at various posts in the United States, including Maine, where he participated in a test of winter equipment for a possible invasion of Japan, and Greenville, S,C,, where he met his future wife, Shirley Anthony Merchant. They were married from 1946 until her death in 2000.
After the war, Mr. Merchant decided not to practice law and returned to Madison to work with his father at the weekly newspaper his father and uncle had purchased in 1910, the Madison Enterprise-Recorder. Later, when asked how long he’d been in the newspaper business, he’d say since age four – when he began helping his father around the print shop. He was always interested in political matters and served two terms in the House of Representatives of the Florida Legislature, from 1949-1952. Afterward, he would say that his best legislation while in office was bills requiring all livestock to be fenced and Klan members to be unmasked.
After his father’s death in 1968, he became the primary editorial writer for the paper, expressing his thoughts in a column entitled “The Passing Parade”, short for “The Old Country Editor Views the Passing Parade.” This column could be humorous but was just as likely to be a biting critique of current political issues and politicians or a spotlight on misguided antics of anyone from the city commissioners to the governor. He was actively involved in civic activities such as the Lions Club and the Rotary Club and always particularly highlighted local educational accomplishments in the paper. In the early 60’s, he set up a bookstore in the newspaper office to help support the then newly-established North Florida Community College.
Mr. Merchant was a faithful, life-long member of the Madison Presbyterian
Church, serving as a deacon and then as an elder for most of his adult life. He remained with the church even when there was a split in the church and the majority of its members left to form a more conservative church. He was a member of the Gideons for more than sixty-five years. In Highlands, he attended Holy Family Lutheran Church.
In North Carolina, he volunteered as a tutor at the Highlands Literacy Council, as a proofreader at The Highlander newspaper, then as the Copy Editor at Highlands Newspaper. He was also a volunteer at the Fidelia Eckerd Living Center and read newspapers to its residents.
Mr. Merchant will be missed and remembered for his kind and generous spirit, loyalty to family and friends, and steadfast adherence to the principles in which he believed, even, in the case of his support for the local Health Officer, Dr. Deborah Coggins, who was dismissed from her position for holding a lunch meeting with an African American nurse in 1956, at the cost of permanent loss of some local advertisers and threats to his family.
The family would like to especially thank his physician, J. Scott Baker, M.D., and his staff, and his caregivers and friends at Chestnut Hill of Highlands. Their wonderful care and friendship during his final years greatly enriched his life.
A graveside service will be held at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Madison on December 14, at 11 a.m. Honorary pallbearers are James J. Sale III, Colin Kelly Howerton, Jack Wade, and Sandy, Jimmy and Zet Smith. Arrangements are being handled by Beggs Funeral Home in Madison.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial donations be made to Four Seasons Hospice, 571 South Allen Road, Flat Rock, NC 28731, Gideons
International, Att. Marvel Curtis, 46 Clover Lane, Franklin, NC 28734, or to a favorite charity.