Thomas W. Merrick, a retired hospital chef who enjoyed preparing and serving sumptuous meals for family and friends, died Monday of heart disease at his Northeast Baltimore home. He was 69.
Mr. Merrick was born and reared in West Baltimore and, after graduating from Carver Vocational-Technical High School in 1951, enlisted in the Air Force.
While in the Air Force, he received his training as a chef at the Military Culinary Institution at Fort Bliss, Texas. After his discharge in 1955, he attended Cortez Peters Business School in Baltimore.
Mr. Merrick married his childhood sweetheart, the former Jean Elizabeth Ware, in 1952.
He was working as a steel sandblaster for Rubber Miller Inc., in Southwest Baltimore, when he was critically injured in an explosion in the early 1960s. After recovering, he went to work as a waiter at the Emerson Hotel, until joining the dietary staff of University Hospital (now University of Maryland Medical Center) in 1968, where he prepared meals for patients and staff. He retired in 1993.
While at the hospital and with a family of seven children to support, Mr. Merrick also worked as a part-time cook at such well-known Baltimore restaurants as Cross Keys Inn, Thompson's Sea-Girt House and the Flaming Pit.
"He had a sterling work ethic," said a son, Marco K. Merrick, who lives in Baltimore.
"He was known for his promptness - that meant being a least half-an-hour early, and never late or absent. He often held two and three jobs to provide the home and lifestyle for his family," he said.
Called the "Cookin' Man" by family and friends, Mr. Merrick enjoyed preparing meals at his church and at home, and despite failing health prepared his family's Thanksgiving dinner last week.
"Even though his health was tenuous, he devoted his heart and time to that dinner, the son said. "He prepared turkey, ham, roast beef, sauerkraut, stuffing, greens, beans and macaroni and cheese," his son said.
"He'd make magic with food and was very intense and focused when working in the kitchen. He'd use anything that wasn't moving to cook in," his son said, laughing. "And you never wanted to clean up after him because in the end his kitchen was one huge mess."
Mr. Merrick also believed that a dining room should be as elegant as possible and liked setting his table with fine china, silver and fluffy, starched napery.
"He believed that presentation was just as important as taste," his son said.
Mr. Merrick's personal preference was seafood and in addition to steaming his own crabs several times a week, he liked preparing and eating various seafood dishes.
"They were just fabulous meals," said Lillian M. Scott, a longtime friend and Edmondson Village resident. "His cod stuffed with crabmeat was absolutely delicious, as were his crab cakes."
Mr. Merrick enjoyed visiting New York City several times a year, where he indulged his passion for Broadway theater and restaurants. His regular routine included taking a suite with a kitchen at the Dumont Plaza Suite Hotel on East 34th Street.
"We never went out for breakfast since he'd cook in his room. He'd make fried tripe, sausage, grits, eggs and homemade biscuits," said Mrs. Scott, who shared several trips to the city with Mr. Merrick and his wife.
Mr. Merrick liked giving parties in his home and always had records of his favorite singer, Sarah Vaughan (whom he met while in the service), softly playing in the background.
He was an avid world traveler.
Mr. Merrick was a member of Douglas Memorial Community Church, 1325 Madison Ave., where services will be held at 5 p.m. tomorrow.
In addition to his wife and son, survivors include four other sons, Thomas A. Merrick, Rodney E. Merrick, Dino D. Merrick and Shawn A. Merrick, all of Baltimore; two daughters, Janet E. Merrick and Gina L. Roberts, both of Baltimore; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.