Merrell Gay – a friend to all

Published 4:06 pm Saturday, May 1, 2010

JACKSON — Northampton County came together for a man who loved his community.

On Thursday evening, family, citizens and officials came from far and wide to honor the late Merrell Gay, a Northampton native who was active in his community and an avid baseball fan.

Dozens gathered at the Northampton County Cultural and Wellness Center and Recreation Complex, the very kind of project that Gay showed a passion for before its conception.

Gay chaired the first Recreation Committee organized in June 2003 by the Northampton County Commissioners to study the feasibility of a county recreation facility. He later became involved with the Northampton Recreation and Cultural Arts Center, Inc., a non-profit that raises money for the center and complex.

The tribute began with the naming of a baseball field in Gay’s honor. Raye Gay, the widow of Merrell, threw a first ceremonial pitch on the ball field.

County Manager Wayne Jenkins spoke of Gay as a “true southern gentleman and a friend to all that knew him.” Jenkins noted the naming of the ball field was historic.

“Today we name and dedicate the first baseball field in the newly constructed Northampton County Recreational Complex in the honor and recognition of Merrell Gay,” he said.

From Gay’s election as the committee’s first Chair, Jenkins said the next five years were rocky, but with Gay’s leadership, dedication and persistence the facility came to be. Since its opening day, over 30,000 citizens have visited and or used the center and complex.

Recreation Director James Roberts recalled meeting Gay in 2003.

“Merrell’s passion towards the project was overwhelming,” he said. “Merrell knew the passion I had for this complex and always told me not to worry; it was going to happen and it did and I wish he was here to see it completed. I know he’s looking down on us now with a big grin on his face.”

Phillip Wayne Creech remembered Gay’s willingness to sponsor his softball team, Lake Deberry. He called Gay a man of action and not of just words.

“Playing this sport was a great way of keeping the young and old out of a lifestyle that would have been unacceptable,” he said. “Mr. Gay was a player and had a drive that took us from a dream to reality, the reality of a fine complex we all will enjoy for years to come.”

The tribute continued inside with more speakers and an auction for several baseball items.

Willis Lamm, who worked with Gay at Farm Bureau shared with the crowd some famous “Merrellisms,” sayings that Gay often use, including “If you get in a fight with your wife the worst thing you can do is win” and “If you see me jogging wait, because somebody is chasing me.”

“I think one of the funniest things he ever said to me was, Merrell made the comment that he was a Democrat but he thought he had enough money to be a Republican,” said Lamm.

Dr. Al Wentzy, who knew Gay through his work in civic organizations, shared Gay’s family background. Mr. Gay helped his family whether it was his father around the farm or his mother with a colicky younger sibling.

“It seems he took his early parenting responsibilities seriously,” said Wentzy.

Gay reflected those strong values in his family. After marrying his high school sweetheart, Raye, they raised a daughter, Derona “Nonie.”

Wentzy said in addition to those family values Gay had a strong work ethic and a passion for his favorite sport—baseball—and his community through civic duties.

“Merrell never knew a stranger, from Manteo to Murphy,” he said.

Chuck Youse with the American Legion recalled meeting Gay while taking over both men’s former position of Northampton County Veteran’s Service Director.

“It became apparent he was extremely proud of his military service,” he said. “He had a great love for this great country in which we are privileged to live. He had a real soft spot for his fellow veterans.”

Derona “Nonie” Schuler, Mr. Gay’s daughter, thanked the crowd for being part of the tribute.

“Daddy loved his family, his community, his county and his country,” she said.

Schuler described her father as a humble person who liked to work from the sidelines and often anonymously.

“What Dad had the hardest time with was accepting pats on the back,” she said. “He believed you shouldn’t receive praise or accolades for those things you should ought to be doing anyways, such as helping build up where you came from.”

She concluded, “Daddy would have had a hard time being singled out tonight, but he would have been very proud of all the support given to the Cultural and Wellness Center and particularly proud that there were community members of all ages and races enjoying this center and continuing to play ball.”

In all, organizers said the tribute pulled in more than $11,000 which will help cover the cost of naming of the baseball field.