91 Year Old Transit Vet Retiring After 65 Years of Service!
In the summer of 1948, New York City’s mass transit system was far different than the one we enjoy today. The sun was about to set on the nickel fare, trollies were still running in Brooklyn and the Third Avenue Elevated rattled overhead between Lower Manhattan and Gun Hill Road in the Bronx. Today, in contrast, the base fare is $2.50, the Bronx segment of the el was removed from service 40 years ago and New York City’s vast trolley network has gone the way of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Far more durable however, Station Superintendent Thomas H. Merrick began his Transit career as a Railroad Clerk on June 23, 1948. He was assigned to the BMT Division with a starting wage of 90 cents per hour, “a good and decent wage at the time,” as Mr. Merrick recalls it. However, on August 31, Mr. Merrick will put a period on a long and distinguished career in transit that spanned 65 years and decades of change.
“Mr. Merrick is an inspiration as both a gentleman and fellow New York City Transit employee. When you consider his length of service, he has worked through the best and worst of times here at Transit, and through all that time, he has been a tremendous resource to both his co-workers and our customers. I am speaking for the entire organization as I thank him for his service and wish him a great and well-deserved retirement,” said NYC Transit Acting President Carmen Bianco.
Born on November 2, 1921, in Wilmington, North Carolina, he ends his career only two months shy of his 92nd birthday. This point in his life comes more than six decades after his first day on the job at the old Stillwell Terminal in Coney Island, where he remembers returning three quarters and five nickels to customers who asked for change of a dollar to pay their fare.
Prior to his tenure at NYC Transit, he was drafted into the United States Army where he served between 1942 and 1946. He trained at Fort McClellan, Alabama and Fort Huachuca, Arizona before being shipped out to Italy and France as part of the 92nd Infantry “Buffalo” Division, a segregated unit of renowned black soldiers. Assigned as a Howitzer Gunner, he was later promoted to Battery Clerk. After being discharged with honor, Mr. Merrick worked for two years as a file clerk with the Veterans Administration.
Recently, Mr. Merrick shared a memorable moment in his NYC Transit career. Tom was on a committee to “beautify stations,” as he describes it. The committee was chaired by Mrs. Phyllis Wagner, the wife of NYC’s 102nd Mayor, Robert F. Wagner. At the end of one rather lengthy committee meeting at MTA headquarters, the former mayor arrived to meet his wife for a dinner engagement. There, Mr. Merrick was introduced to Mayor Wagner.
He has personally witnessed many of the advancements and improvements in the station environments throughout his long career. Included in these upgrades over the years are the replacement of incandescent light bulbs with clean fluorescent lighting in stations, an array of changes with fares and tokens to improved automated fare collection, wood token booths with barred windows to bullet resistant service booths, significant improvements in emergency communications for employees and customers in distress such as the Emergency Booth Communication System (EBCS) and Halon Fire Suppression capability and most prominently, station rehabilitations. As Mr. Merrick compares the stations, he describes them as “dark and gloomy” prior to being given much needed attention to now “attractive and bright.”
“When I came in it was like the Toonerville Trolley. Now everything has been changed for the better. Things are new, modern, state-of-the art and they are getting even better. I’m sorry to leave, as I know that there are changes in the pipeline that I would like to see completed,” Mr. Merrick added. “Every time I go to a part of the subway where I haven’t been for a while, I am amazed at the improvements. I’d love to stay for the completion of the Line and Fulton Street projects.”
In 1968, Mr. Merrick was promoted to Assistant Station Supervisor; elevated to Station Supervisor in 1981 and later, as part of the managerial restructuring for improved accountability under former President David Gunn, to Station Superintendent in 1984. As a Station Superintendent, Mr. Merrick has been rotated to virtually all of the operating responsibility centers including station operations in the field, signage, and the nerve center of station operations at the Rail Control Center. He has consistently performed his duties, in every assignment as an exemplary and valued employee.
As you would expect, Mr. Merrick has some sage advice for longevity and a lengthy career, “You should take one day at a time and if you enjoy your work, it will motivate you to continue working.” In his spare time, he has always enjoyed playing tennis, which he views as a “nice clean sport.” When asked if he plans to stay in New York, Mr. Merrick responded that “New York is the best place to live” because it has a steady and reliable record of progressive laws and caring for those who are less fortunate.
On August 31, 2013, MTA New York City Transit, Department of Subways, Division of Station Environment and Operations will say farewell to a valued and admired long term employee with a commendable attendance and operating record. As a family, the men and women of NYC Transit wish him all the best.