Horace Sellers Merrill loved to hunt deer and play checkers.

“I went deer hunting with him many times,” Heflin Mayor Rudy Rooks said. “He still kept a few deer dogs. He was also the best checkers player in Cleburne County, maybe Alabama. It didn’t take but a few times of him beating me that I just quit playing him.”

Merrill, the father of Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, died last week at the age of 80.

Merrill worked at Dixie Mines Mica Mining Company before entering politics.

After receiving encouragement from his father and wife, he entered the political arena in 1964 and was elected Circuit Clerk of Cleburne County.  He served as Circuit Clerk for 12 years, while also participating in various civic, professional, and social organizations including the Lions Club, Jaycees, and Athletic Boosters Club where he served as President of each.  He also assisted in the organization of the first youth baseball program in Heflin, where he officiated as well as coached in the 1960s and 1970s.  He also served as the public address announcer for Little League Football and Junior High Football games.    

Merrill was a driving force in Heflin most of his life, serving two terms as Circuit Judge. He also was Probate Judge and chairman of the Cleburne County Commission in 1976, a position he held for six years.

In addition to his political career, Merrill was an active participant in the Cleburne Baptist Association, where he served as an officer and pastor of several churches.  His pastorates included Happy Hill, Cedar Creek, Pinetucky (Interim), Chulafinnee, and Edwardsville Baptist churches.

As a member of Heflin Baptist for more than 50 years, Merrill served as a Deacon, Sunday School Superintendent, Sunday School teacher, Church Training Director, and Sanctuary Choir member.  

“He was the finest man I ever knew,” his son John said. “He was always helping people and trying to find a way to improve their lives.

“I have tried to model my life as a public servant after him because he was truly a public servant.”

John Merrill said his dad was also a big University of Alabama sports fan.

“He held season football tickets for the last 20 years and one of my fondest memories was when we got to go to the 1993 Sugar Bowl when Alabama beat Miami for the national championship,” John said. “He talked about that a lot.

“And he just wasn’t a football fan, but he kept up with all the sports. He knew the players and coaches. He knew what was going on.”

He is survived by his loving wife and companion of 53 years, Mary Thompson Merrill; his son, John Harold Merrill (Cindy) of Tuscaloosa; his daughter, Audrey Merrill Gillis (Stephen) of Montgomery; his grandchildren Pelham Brooks Merrill of Tampa, Florida, Alexandra Grace Merrill of Queens, New York, Mary Kathryn Gillis, and Sarah Sellers Gillis of Montgomery; his sister Doris Sue Belcher of Vestavia Hills, and his brother Stanley Merrill (Sue) of Heflin.