Merle Matthews passes away at 83

Published 9:16 am Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Just about everyone Merle Wade Matthews ever met had a story about her — from her days in the classroom; to her years as an “ambassador” for the family business, Pepsi of Atmore; to the example she set as a loving mother and grandmother.

Matthews died Sunday at her home in Atmore.

Betty Warren, principal at Escambia Academy, said said no one will forget the woman who taught Atmore area children for 30 years.

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“The thing that stands out the most to me when I think of Mrs. Merle is how much she loved her family, especially her grandchildren,” Warren said. “She was so proud of each of them for the person they were and their accomplishments. When possible, She would be there if her grandchildren were performing or being recognized.”

Warren said everyone who met Matthews had a story about her.

“I am not sure if she was still doing it, but I remember, at one time, Mrs. Merle gave little gold hammers with all the little screwdrivers inside the handles to graduates,” she said. “I personally was lucky enough to be given one which I still have today.”

Matthews had been an Atmore citizen since 1957, when she married Hooper W. Matthews Sr.

A native of Ochlochnee, Ga., she graduated from Ochlochnee High School after growing up on a farm. Matthews worked her way through Berry College in Rome, Ga., where she was an honor student. She established the Markie Scholarship at Berry College this year in the name of a fellow classmate, Dr. Scott Markle, her neurologist.

Following graduation from college, Matthews became the youngest home demonstration agent in Georgia. She later spent 30 years teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grade students in Atmore.

She supplied the “seed money” in the late 1960s for the purchase of the family’s business, Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of Atmore.

Matthews continued to volunteer in various organizations, worked the prison ministry and was a member of the Trinity Episcopal Church.

Hooper Matthews Jr. said he believed his mother was a positive person.

“She always had a big smile on her face and for everybody,” he said. “She would often ride down the road and think about somebody she needed to pray for. Sometimes she didn’t even know where she was riding.”

Matthews’ memories of his mother include her unique quirks — she never broke the habit of drinking three cans of Mountain Dew a day, he said — and the adages she often shared.

“She had several sayings that I remember, such as, ‘You can’t out-give God,’ and ‘Credit cards are for convenience, not credit.’

Through many health problems, Matthews was resilient, her son said.

“She bounced back many times,” he said. “Last year we were told she wouldn’t last another 48 hours, but she came back.”

Emilie Mims, a fellow parishioner at Trinity, said she had fond memories of Matthews.

“She was always a part of the congregation,” Mims said. “I have wonderful memories of Merle. She was a character who said what she thought and we all loved her for it. She was extremely generous and was always thinking about what she could do for everyone else. Merle Matthews was one of a kind, and I will never forget her.”

Atmore resident Lee Martin also had some kind words in memory of “Mrs. Merle.”

“She was truly an earth saint and a devout Christian,” said Martin, a member of St. Anna’s Episcopal Church. “She never met a stranger and always extended her love to all she met. She was a member of St. Anna’s family as she was to several Atmore churches. We will miss her at St. Anna’s, but she will always be in our thoughts and prayers. We can only imagine the joy she will find in Heaven as she sees so many of her dear friends.”

Current and former Atmore residents — many of them former students of Matthews’ — filled Facebook posts since Sunday with memories of her.

“If all the world had Merle Matthews’ attitude and outlook on life, it would be a much better place to live,” Marty Dukes wrote. “She will be missed.”

Matthews was preceded in death by her parents, John Arthur and Nora Albritton Wade; her brother, Wallace Wade; and her sisters, Cleo Hagan, Dora Hackney, Sadie Shuman, Dot Carter and Anne Edwards.

She is survived by her children, Dale (Alan) Ash and Hooper W. (Diann) Matthews III, both of Atmore, and Cindy (Rob) Colville of Spanish Fort; her grandsons, Daniel Matthews Ash, Wade Alan Ash, Hooper Wade Matthews, William Robert Colville Jr., Samuel Clay Colville; granddaughters, Kristen Diann Matthews and Madison Leigh Matthews; her sisters, Doris Wade Gandy of Atmore and Lysbeth Wade Brown of Jacksonville, Fla.; and dozens of nieces and nephews. She was also survived by her care givers, Michelle Robbins of Bay Minette and Joyce Portis of Mobile; and her daughter in Christ, Lucille Hubert Matthews of Atmore.

Funeral services will be held Friday, Oct. 14, at First Baptist Church on South Main Street. A visitation reception and luncheon will follow the service.

The Rev. John Phillips and the Rev. Jim Thorpe will officiate at the funeral, and burial will follow at Oak Hill Cemetey with Johnson-Quimby Funeral Home directing.