WORDS Liesel Schmidt
IMAGES courtesy Brittany Ransom and Philip Merry
“What is the use of living, if not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?” ~ Sir Winston Churchill
That quote could well sum up the ethos by which Philip H. Merry, Jr., lives, both personally and professionally. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he graduated from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in 1976. But more than just a quote a some long-ago figure whose words were spoken in some far-off place, these are words that resonated with Philip deeply, echoing off the very walls of the college he spent his days.
“Since attending Westminster College, where Churchill gave his Iron Curtain speech, I have tried my best to remember that it is vital that we do things that will help others and make the world a better place,” he says. “We must subscribe to this mindset continuously. Churchill saved his citizens and his nation during the WWII bombings in London, and he never stopped trying to help his people. I vowed to do the same when I graduated from Westminster in 1976.”
And so, he has.
Still, for Philip, the reason for living this life of selflessness and stewardship runs deeper than simply an inspiring speech. Having lost his older brother to an automobile accident when he was nine, Philip saw love and service come to life through the words and actions of his Sunday school teacher, Grace Darling. In ministering to him through the hurt and loss he felt for his brother, Grace taught him a lesson that would stay with him his entire life. “She said to me, ‘Often times it is very easy to stop and help others. But the times when it is really hard to help, when we are hurting and helping others may seem awfully difficult, that is when it is especially important to help others. You did this. You’ve learned this. Don’t ever forget this lesson that I pray will remain in your heart forever,’” Philip recalls.
“I do my very best to live my life putting God first, others second, and myself last,” Philip goes on. “It is imperative that we pay it forward. The best way to say thank you for the help and favors we receive in life is to help others.”
Married for more than forty-six years to his wife, Leigh, with whom he has four grown children as well as four grandchildren, Philip lives out his principles in his family life. Together, the Merry family have built a strong bond that keeps them together through good times and bad. “People who know us typically call us ‘The Merry Mess!’” Philip notes with a laugh. “We are active, energetic, fun-filled, and happy. We try not to sweat the small stuff, as the only real stuff is God, family, friends, our health, our country, our communities, and our pets.”
Clearly, Philip has a rich family life. And as fulfilling as he finds it, Philip has always striven for more, to have that fulfillment in all areas of his life.
Since graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Business and Economic Administration, Philip has gained more than four decades of experience in insurance/risk management. During this time, he has also been awarded a staggering list of professional commendations, devoting his time and resources to bettering the work done in his industry—all of which he does in addition to his work as a broker and risk management consultant for First Western Insurance.
As busy as his professional responsibilities keep him, Philip still dedicates himself fully to his community. A strong supporter of the local university, he actively participates in the activities of University of Arkansas Fort Smith. Being a firm believer in helping those in need, Philip has been deeply involved with fund raising efforts for area nonprofits and community organizations as well.
His civic duty and sense of national pride also knows no bounds. In 1995, Philip was elected as Fort Smith Arkansas Constitutional Convention delegate. In more recent years, he has served on the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Executive Committee and was chairman of the Chamber’s Education and Quality of Place Division. In 2009, Philip created the Christmas Honors initiative, implementing the placement of more than 16,500 Christmas wreaths upon every grave site in the Fort Smith U.S. National Cemetery. In 2010, he was elected to the Fort Smith City Board of Directors. In addition, Philip was appointed by the governor to serve on the American Selective Service System Board, where he trains annually to conduct the local draft in the event of war. He is now also an alumnus of the Fort Smith area FBI Citizens Academy.
An avid golfer, Philip’s love for the fairway is reflected in his involvement in the local golf community. From 1998 to 2008, he served as chairman of The First Tee of Fort Smith, an organization whose mission is to provide life skills, education, and golfing opportunities to the youth of the local area. To that end, Philip worked closely with the PGA Tour commissioner and First Tee directors on both the local and national levels to offer the area’s youth access to golf affordably, at the same time as teaching them the principles of integrity, honesty, responsibility, and duty. Philip’s dedication to the local youth can also be seen in the years he spent coaching young girls’ basketball at Girls, Inc.
Reflecting his love of animals, Philip serves as chairman of the Hope Humane Society and oversees the Moran Pet Cemetery. “We raise money for local animal support groups, and our funds also go for transporting animals to the northern parts where overpopulation is not an issue and the animals can find a new beginning,” says Philip, who has two dogs himself. “My office is filled with photos and portraits of dogs. To me, ‘dog’ is ‘God’ spelled backwards. I always remember that the nativity scene includes animals, and that God chose to include animals in His miracle. I will always do my part to love and respect His animals of any and all kinds!”
For all his accomplishments—both in his professional life and within the community—Philip has set himself apart, gaining notice by both his fellow citizens as well as the Fort Smith Noon Exchange Club, which awards the Book of Golden Deeds Award to deserving members. Comprised of men and women “working together to make the community a better place to live,” the Noon Exchange Club is a national organization whose local chapters offer service programs that encourage Americanism and volunteerism as well as youth activities and the prevention of child abuse. The Book of Golden Deeds honors groups or individuals who dedicate “time, talent, and energy to help those in need,” recognizing these unsung heroes for their good deeds.
In 2021, Philip’s selfless dedication was honored through the award. “There is a particular resident of our community who epitomizes the characteristics of the Exchange and whom I feel is a very deserving candidate for your consideration of our Book of Golden Deeds,” wrote FSNE Past President 2010 Claude Legris in his letter to the secret committee, nominating Merry for the award. “Philip H. Merry, Jr., is not only a very successful businessman, but also a model citizen who has every aspect of this community in his head and his heart. Philip has been, and continues to be, very involved in a variety of organizations that touch many important aspects of our community.”
The honor was accepted with all the grace and humility that one would expect from such a selfless individual—and Philip holds the honor with quiet pride in knowing he has upheld that philosophy he adopted so long ago, to make the world a better place.