As dozens of city employees, local aldermen and state officials packed the pews at the Newton Cemetery Chapel Tuesday morning, it was clear the impact Carleton Merrill had on Newton and his colleagues in elected office.
"I describe him as the perfect role model for public service," said Board of Aldermen President Scott Lennon. "He was warm, engaging, caring, dedicated, hard working -- but most importantly, what I learned from him, is that he was a great listener."
Lennon gave the eulogy Tuesday morning inside the modest chapel, which was adorned simply with a handful of bright bouquets. A wooden casket rested at the front of the hall alongside a crisp, folded American flag.
Despite the somber circumstances, Tuesday morning's service was filled with plenty of smiles as Lennon, Mayor Setti Warren and Eliot Church's Rev. Debbi Carter offered memories of a man who spent 70 years of his life in public service.
Merrill, an alderman-at-large from Ward 1, passed away on January 23 at the age of 88. He is survived by his wife Treva (Rector) Merrill, his sister Jane Merrill, of Newton, and his sister-in-law of Eva Austin, of Wilmington Del. He was the twin brother of the late Edward Merrill.
Born and raised in Newton, Merrill graduated from Newton High School in 1942 and soon after, entered his first role in public service: the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Merrill served tours in the Pacific Theatre in World War II before he returned to Newton and was elected to his first term on the Newton Board of Aldermen in 1950. He took a few years off and then returned to serve three terms from 1956 to 1961.
In 1962, Merrill was appointed as the city's veterans affairs officer and, for anyone who knew him, his work for veterans would define so much of his character and public persona.
"Carleton Merrill's name is still synonymous with veteran affairs in and out of the city of Newton," Lennon said. "Whenever there was an event even remotely affiliated with the men and women of the armed forces, Carleton was sure to be there."
Merrill was also one of the original organizers behind the annual Newton Memorial Day Parade. As Lennon noted in his eulogy, Merrill was always excited to hand out the official parade marshal ribbons to his friends and colleagues.
And if he had any excuse to wear his uniform, Merrill would show up in his Army attire proudly stating, "It still fits!" Lennon said.
Mayor Setti Warren, who served in the Navy, recalled his special relationship with Merrill as a veteran, and how the two would always salute each other when they met at City Hall or at local events.
"That was our way of greeting each other," Warren said in his remarks Tuesday morning.
In addition to his 34 years as the city's veterans and licensing agent, Merrill also held leadership and member roles in various veterans groups, including Newton Post 440, the Newton Veterans Council, the VFW, Disabled American Veterans and the Jewish War Veterans.
Merrill has also served as the former commissioner for the Scouts of America, a member of a cancer patient support group at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, a member of the Newton Corner Advisory Committee and Nonantum Advisory Committee and former chairman of the West Suburban Division of the American Heart Association.
When Merrill wasn't talking about veteran's affairs or city business, he was enthusiastically showing off his NASCAR credentials. The avid stock car fan raced his own car in addition to officiating at tracks in Norwood, Westborough, Loudon, N.H. and the Daytona 500.
In 1996, after "retiring" from his veterans affairs position, Merrill returned to the Board of Aldermen for 8 1/2 more terms until his death. He worked under seven mayors and served on many aldermanic subcommittees ranging from Education to Land Use, Finance to Parking Meters & Traffic, Lennon said.
But what set Merrill apart from the rest was his ability to listen -- listen to his colleagues, his constituents and his fellow veterans.
"He had a knack to be able to listen to an entire issue on both sides, summarize the thoughts on both sides, clearly articulate his thoughts and see to it that, if there was a way, both sides could come away with something," Lennon said. "He was good at that, and that's something I've always carried with me."
Warren also recalled the first time he met Merrill in 2009; the seasoned alderman walked with Warren and visited a group of citizens, with Merrill showing the mayoral candidate how to interact with constituents and listen to what they had to say.
"He was the definition of public service," Warren said. "I think we can all learn from that."
As the Board of Aldermen reconvenes on Monday evening, Lennon noted that the light on Merrill's desk will remain on for the remainder of this term in his honor. The board will also dedicate the rest of its term to Merrill as they find a way to permanently honor one of the city's most loyal and hard working officials.
"I am confident that you are already at work organizing some committee or parade, or speaking at another support group up in heaven," Lennon said. "And for those of you who are involved with him: start your engines."
Donations can be made in Merrill's name to the American Heart Association, 20 Speen St. Framingham, MA 01701.