Mary Ellen Sykes Merritt, 89, passed away in her home the evening of February 5th. She had spent most of December and January as an inpatient of a hospital, then a convalescent center, after suffering a heart attack. With unsurprising resiliency she managed to recover well enough to return to her home of nearly 40 years where she shared a belated Christmas with her children and grandchildren to the delight of all.
Those that new her have expressed how they loved her spirit, how she loved to have a good time, and how she was unfailingly considerate, never forgetting birthdays and always giving “happys” to the little ones of her extended family.
Mary Ellen was the seventh of nine children born to Thomas May and Dollie Millie Melton Sykes. She thoroughly enjoyed her childhood playing in the fields, woods, and streams, of rural Halifax County with her large farming family. She went to ECTC (East Carolina Teachers College), now East Carolina University, to become a grammar school teacher but realized her sister Margaret "seemed to be having a lot more fun in nurses’ training." After completing her Nurses' Cadet Corp training at Park View Hospital in Rocky Mount, she and her good friend Hester Keel went to work in Wilmington where they enjoyed the beach life. Wanting to broaden her experience, she worked at Rex Hospital in Raleigh, then went out of state to Mcguire Veterans Hospital in Richmond, worked a number of months in Little Rock, Arkansas, and finally as a private duty nurse in Miami, before returning to eastern North Carolina—once again to Rocky Mount, where she worked in Dr. Crumpler’s pediatric office. She joined the Air Force in 1955, training in Alabama, then was sent to California for a few months before shipping out to England. There she met William Freeman “Bill” Merritt while stationed at Burtonwood, AFB in Warrenton, England. He was to become her husband of 43 years, until his death in 2002. They enjoyed many romantic trips around Europe during her two year tour of active duty. When Bill was transferred to Stewart AFB in New York, Mary Ellen followed, finding work at St. Luke Children’s Hospital in Newburg, NY. Living just an hour up the Hudson from New York City they were able to take in many Broadway shows and the vibrant nightlife of Manhattan in its heyday. They also enjoyed hiking and picnicking in the nearby Stone Mountains. Finally, after four years of romance, Mary Ellen and Bill tied the knot in June of 1959. Their first son, David, arrived a little over a year later. Second son, Ben, joined the family before a transfer to Georgia and the addition of their third son, Robby. About six months later, they packed again. This time for a two- year stay in the Philippines, followed by four years in Texas. Bill retired from the Air Force as a in June of 1972. The logical place to settle was in Goldsboro, close to most of Mary Ellen's ever growing extended family and Seymour Johnson AFB, where they often hit the golf course and their boys hit the pool.
She enjoyed working in the yard, spending time with family and friends at the beach, as well as going to local and regional performances of all kinds. She was equally entertained to hear of the latest additions to the family and the exploits of all those she cared for. She loved visits from her family, especially her loving granddaughters.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
She is survived by her sons David, Ben, and Robby, his wife Susana, and their daughters Olivia and Vanessa; younger sister Jeanette Wood, brother-in-law John Taylor; sister-in-law Lois Merritt, and 70-plus extended family members.
She is preceded in death by her brother Glen Sykes, sister Naomi and husband George Smith, sister Nick and husband Slim Morgan, sister Millie and husband Archie Brown, brother Raymond Sykes and wife Shirley, sister Margaret and husband John Jackson, sister Jean (survived by brother-in-law John Taylor), and brother-in-law Jack Wood (survived by sister Jeanette.)
Visitation will be from 6-8pm Friday, Feb 13th at Seymour Funeral Home in Goldsboro, NC with the Funeral at 1pm Saturday, Feb 14th at New Hope United Methodist Church in Goldsboro and a graveside service at Wayne Memorial Park in Dudley. The family will receive guests in Mary Ellen’s home afterward.
Plants or flowers are welcome, but in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her honor to the charity of your choice.
Online condolence may be sent to the family at www.seymourfuneralhome.com.