In Celebration: Ronald Tyrone Merritt, Jr

The oldest son of ten siblings, three boys and seven girls, Ron was born on July 26 more than six decades ago in New York to Ronald Sr. and Alice Elizabeth Merritt. He was especially fond of his immediate and very large extended family of grand and great grand parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, as well as nieces and nephews. He held in high honor with deep respect his mom and dad, both now  88 years of age.

From early childhood, Ron Jr. was known for his high sense of integrity, with a desire to protect,  and sensitivity towards others. Growing up, he enjoyed his family and many friends, the Boy Scouts, obtained a black belt in karate, excelled in art, enjoyed reading, and educationally was trained as an architectural draftsman. Ron Jr. studied music, played the piano, and enjoyed the classics. He loved animals and was in the process of adopting a shelter bird.

Always a strong believer in the intrinsic value of each human life, when confronted as a young man with the draft to go and fight in Vietnam, Ron Jr. became a conscious objector; willing to serve, but not to kill. Unbeknownst to the family, he was placed on a plane and in reality punished by being sent west to northern California’s rural counties to fight forest fires; far from his family, and from any option to pursue his professional career and livelihood. After his “tour of duty” was completed in 1977, Ron Jr. was given a bus ticket to Sacramento, where he arrived without funds or contacts. One can only imagine the obstacles encountered, but throughout his life he always insisted on maintaining his privacy and  independence, never wanting to be a burden to anyone.

He respected himself and others, and made it a point not to hold on to bitterness against others. Even during difficult times, one of his favorite activities, continued from early youth, was visiting the ocean and open green spaces, and, whenever possible, he would surround his living space with plants. He confronted many challenges in subsequent years (including having his place of residence and work tools stolen from him)—probably more so because he was sensitive and felt things deeply—but he took them as they came and worked with them as a man, while always reaching out a helping hand to others. One of his neighbors shared how he supplied her with aluminum foil for two years, and it was only just a few weeks ago that she told him she was now in a position to buy her own. Even though he was often with limited funds to take care of his own personal needs, he managed to donate a sizable amount each month to a non-profit working to educate people in need of support. A concierge in his apartment building shared how Ron Jr. taught her (who was very afraid of spiders) how to use tape to pick up a spider and take it outdoors to freedom without harming it. It was not uncommon to see him with care packages to give out during his evening walks in the neighborhood where he lived. 

Ron Jr. celebrated the life God gave him with boldness, and was truly blessed in the opportunities given. He loved the work he was called to do. He was professionally trained in various aspects of the building trade, starting as a youth from his great-uncle George, and taught classes in junior college. Ron Jr. also launched a business, Labor-on- Demand, that gave job opportunities and training to others, especially those who were without homes, and went above and beyond for at no cost in making each their own business cards (along with an address and phone number so they could be contacted with work offers). Labor-on-Demand continued until the building where he maintained his offices was sold to a new owner and a need to vacate.

He volunteered for many, many years for those considered the least in society, giving each high respect and honor. He was deeply committed and especially grateful for the opportunity to work with the Coalition on Homelessness, and held Jennifer Friedenbach, Kenneth Dotson, Nick Kimura, and all his associates in high esteem. When visiting family away from San Francisco, there was always a sense of responsibility to return to the area and continue the work.

When recently offered a garden apartment away from the Tenderloin, and for which he was waitlisted for many years, he declined as that would take him away from the people he now considered part of his mission to serve. As one of his neighbors, a mother of 14 mentioned, “he knew his mission from God and he accomplished it!”  Ron Jr. loved his family, his fellow human beings (irrespective of background), his country, and especially his God who he understood to be the God of all. He devoted a significant amount of time over the last five years working on a special blog that he felt deeply contained good news, and therefore shared with all he encountered. He was a giver and not selfish with his material goods, his time, or his thoughts and advice.