Lillian D. Merritt, 104, seamstress, churchgoer and board game fan

July 31, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Lillian D. Merritt, a centenarian, retired seamstress and active churchgoer, died in her sleep Wednesday at Keswick Multi-Care Center. She was 104.

She was born Lillian Driver in Gloucester County, Va., and moved with her family to Back River in 1912.

Mrs. Merritt attended Baltimore County public schools until eighth grade, when she left to help raise her eight younger siblings.

"She talked about picking string beans, carrying water and traveling by ferryboat and horse and buggy when she went to visit her grandmother in Virginia," said a granddaughter, Bernice Brooks-Plymouth of Randallstown.

During World War I, she was employed in New York City as a domestic until returning to Baltimore. As a seamstress working in the city's garment district for more than 20 years, she specialized in making belts, collars and sleeves. She retired in 1962.

Mrs. Merritt's first marriage to Benjamin Brooks ended in divorce. She was married for 40 years to Bernard Merritt, a railroader, who died in 1980.

For more than 45 years, Mrs. Merritt lived on North Monroe Street. She moved to Keswick in 1990.

For years, Mrs. Merritt held a supper for family and friends who gathered at her home on New Year's Eve.

"She always started with a prayer and the food was associated with the heritage and culture of African-Americans. She'd prepare chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas, yams and cornbread," said Aaron Plymouth, husband of Bernice Brooks-Plymouth.

"She was a very religious and reverent person and sometimes her Thanksgiving blessing went on so long that the food got cold," he said, laughing.

Mrs. Merritt was a former member of St. Stevens African Methodist Episcopal Church in Essex. Since 1937, she has been a member of Enon Baptist Church in Baltimore.

Mrs. Merritt enjoyed crocheting, knitting, board games and the Orioles. She also liked watching soap operas and listening to religious radio broadcasts.

"She played dominoes and Connect Four until she was 99, and only stopped because of failing sight," Mrs. Brooks-Plymouth said.

"She even beat my wife at dominoes at 99. And it wasn't a case of my wife rolling over and letting her win, either," Mr. Plymouth said.

Mrs. Merritt celebrated her 104th birthday July 22 at a party attended by family and friends.

"She said the `People are lovely and the food is lovely. Everything is lovely, and I'm just getting old,' " her granddaughter said.

Mr. Plymouth added: "She was a lady who truly loved life, God and her family."

Services will be held at noon Monday at the March Funeral Home, 4300 Wabash Ave.

In addition to her granddaughter, Mrs. Merritt is survived by a son, Melvin O. Brooks of Baltimore; a brother, Raymond Driver of Rosedale; another granddaughter; and four great-grandsons. Another son, Benjamin C. Brooks, died in 2000.

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