By Francis Scarcella and Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — Merle H. Phillips, a Dalmatia native and U.S. Marine who become a company president before serving more than 30 years in the state House of Representatives and a nearly 2-year stint as a Northumberland County commissioner, died today at age 85.
He and his wife, Helen, of 159 Haas Manor Drive in Upper Augusta Township, were married for more than 61 years. They are the parents of one son and four daughters.
Rep. Phillips served in the U.S. Marines from 1951 to 1957 and attended Susquehanna University. Prior to his election to the state House of Representatives, he was the president of Irish Valley Food Processing.
He served as the state representative in the 108th Legislative District from April 8, 1980 through Jan. 4, 2011. He then served as a Northumberland County Commisisoner from Nov. 24, 2011 until Jan. 3, 2012.
Here are some statements and remembrances:
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett
"Our thoughts and prayers go out the loved ones of former State Rep. Merle Phillips, who passed away this morning. Rep. Phillips represented the 108th District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1980 until retiring in 2010."
State Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108
"Merle was dedicated and compassionate to the people of the 108th District.
"He believed everyone deserved a second and third chance. Merle was a great mentor and friend. I will forever cherish his time here with us."
State Sen. John Gordner, R-27:
“He was a great public servant. The thing was, when you’d first meet him, he’d come over as a slow talking dutchman...and I say that in a good way... but he was clever as a fox. As a politician, he did more behind the scenes than anyone I’ve ever met. He always knew what buttons to push to get things done. He was the total package.
“I was first elected in 1992 and began serving in the House in 1993. There was a group of us, Russ Fairchild, Belfanti, Merle and myself. He was elected to leadership. He must have handled tens of thousands of constituent problems in his time.
“He was very fond of his dogs. He’d bring them to work and if anyone complained, he’d tell them to bring their complaints to the caucus administrator. Of course, he was the caucus administrator.
“Merle taught me to be persistent about projects. And he was very good at working across the aisle. People don’t realize how well he worked with Governor Rendell. Here you had a country legislator and a big city, fast-talking governor from Philly, but they worked together. The Sunbury riverfront project was first OK’d during the Rendell administration, and it happened because Merle was persistent.”
Former State Rep. Russell Fairchild, Lewisburg
“Merle was a very close friend and an excellent legislator. He was very effective in Harrisburg.
“When I was first elected he had already been serving six, eight years, I think. We didn’t know each other very well at first, but we became true friends and that carried on even after we left office.
“He taught me a lot, and I’d like to think I taught him a little
“He was good right up until the last weeks, and then I know it was tough for him. I will miss him a lot.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-10
"Merle devoted so much of his life to serving the people of the central Susquehanna Valley - as a state representative, as a business leader and as a United States Marine.
"My deepest condolences are with his family and friends."