Wayne Merritt was born in Columbus, Georgia to the late Martha Hunt Merritt and the late Thomas Wayne Merritt, Sr. He attended Baker High School in Columbus before moving to Auburn, Alabama to continue his studies at Auburn University. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology in 1966 and a Master’s degree in Zoology in 1968.
Having conquered that world, he signed up for Officer Candidate School and pilot training in the Air Force, much to the chagrin of his mother. While in training he met the woman who would become his loving wife of fifty one years, Edith Eaton Bradford Moore, and in the process giving her one more name to tack on the end of that chain of names. Edith came equipped with two daughters from a previous marriage, Theresa and Jennifer, that Wayne loved and cared for as his own. Edith and Wayne were married on January 24, 1970 in a lovely ceremony in her mother’s living room.
Wayne completed pilot training in Valdosta, Georgia in 1970 and was assigned to the Strategic Air Command flying B-52 Stratofortresses. He spent time in California and then Kincheloe AFB in Michigan. He completed two tours flying combat missions over North Vietnam, one in Thailand and the second in Guam. During this time, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and subsequently Aircraft Commander. He received numerous awards, including the Air Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, Air Force Longevity Service Award, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Air Force Organizational Unit Award, and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. It was in Kincheloe that Edith and Wayne welcomed a son, David (1970) and a daughter, Penelope (Penny, 1971). With these additions Wayne’s family was complete and for the rest of his life they were the guiding priority in every decision he made.
In 1973 he was taken off flight status for medical reasons and assigned to the ROTC program at Auburn University. He was determined that each child would have their own room, but five bedrooms houses were in short supply, so he personally designed and built a 2,700 square foot house during his spare time.
It was his love of family that caused him to forsake his second love, flying. He resigned his commission in 1977 in order to stay in Auburn so his children would be near their grandparents and extended family, and of critical importance, so they would grow up in Auburn. This is a decision all of his children are grateful for to this day.
At this point Wayne decided to pursue a PhD in Industrial Engineering with a focus on Ergonomics, loving Edith, raising four children, working to finish the house they lived in and never letting the children know how very little money was involved. He defended his thesis and earned his doctorate on March 20, 1987.
He took a job as a professor of Industrial Engineering and Statistical Methods at the University of Alabama in 1988 and continued to work there until his retirement in 2007. During this time he and Edith purchased an antebellum plantation house in Eutaw, Alabama that he maintained and began restoring. In addition to all of this, he worked as an independent consultant, helping businesses by analyzing their workflow and redesigning workspaces to reduce injuries due to strain and repetitive stress.
When Edith won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching in 1996, she received a trip to Central America. Even though Wayne didn’t enjoy swimming, he insisted they both earn their scuba certification so he could accompany Edith on dives in Belize and Panama to protect her from sharks and barracudas.
By 2006 both Penny and David had moved their families to Auburn along with their children. In order to be close to her grandchildren, Edith wanted to move back, but Wayne was adamant that he would not live in Auburn unless he could live in the house he built, thinking this was a surefire way to shut down that plan. Luckily, or unluckily, depending on how it is viewed, the house he built came up for sale and Edith and Wayne purchased the property at only ten times what it cost to build.
It was in Auburn that Wayne lived out his remaining time with his family, doting on grandchildren, starting any number of projects, and loving Edith as always. During this time celiac disease and the accompanying health issues exacerbated by the fact that it went undiagnosed until his mid-fifties kept his activities much reduced from the level he was accustomed to and that he preferred. He never stopped planning and never stopped working as much as his health would allow.
Throughout his life Wayne was gifted with keen intelligence, a spirit of fierce independence and sense of unwavering integrity that all who knew him admired and strove to emulate in their own lives. He is preceded in death by his parents Martha and Tommy Merritt and is survived by his loving wife, Edith Merritt; his brother, Stanley Merritt (Sue); his four children, Theresa McClain (Russ), Jennifer Bland (Bill), David Merritt (Kelly) and Penny Merritt-Price (Shannon); and nine grandchildren, Caitlin McClain, Lawton McClain, Gavin McClain, Justin Bland, Davis Edwards, Karley Grayson, Lily Merritt, Finn Price and Keane Price; and his nephew, Stan Merritt.
We would like to offer our sincere thanks and gratitude to the amazing staff of East Alabama Medical Center and the doctors and nurses who gave such amazing care to Wayne during his recent hospitalizations. Special thanks to Drs. James Cutcliffe and David Holmes, and nurses Felicia, Claire, and Mercedes.
An outdoor memorial service will be held at the Davis Arboretum on the Auburn University campus at 2pm on Sunday October 11, 2020 with Dr. Jeff Redmond officiating. Friends and family are welcome to attend. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Parkway Baptist Church Debt Fund in Auburn, Alabama. The service will be streamed via Zoom. Request access by sending an email to Wayne.Merritt.Memorial@gmail.com.
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