Merle Peery, 85, Virginia native and resident of Tampa, Florida, passed away Tuesday, June 7, 2022. She is remembered as a loving and compassionate wife, mother, grandmother, mentor, and friend.
Merle is survived by her husband of 50 years, R. Russell Peery, daughter, Kiki Caruson, three grandchildren, Skyllar, Quenten, and India (LaLa) Erikson of Florida, step-daughter Wildflower Peery of Montana, step-son Gordon Peery of New Hampshire, their loving families, brother-in-law Ronald “Ron” Weingart of Tennessee, as well as a network of extended family and friends across the country.
We celebrate shared memories of Merle’s vibrant life including her devotion to loved ones (two legged and four legged), her sense of humor and infectious laughter, her passion for the arts especially opera (Puccini and Verdi preferably), gardening and tending to her many plants, her love of the national parks of the southwest United States and Sedona, Arizona in particular, getting lost in a good book, big bold jewelry, sharing recipes and baked goods made from scratch, entertaining new and old friends with a well-planned dinner, and browsing for fabric and patterns to put her Singer sewing machine to use. Like her banker-bookkeeper mother, she always balanced the check book to the penny. Above all, Merle excelled at listening and engaging in meaningful conversation. She was always available to lend an ear and her reservoir of patience was deep. Merle’s commitment to the betterment of society and her compassion for people and her community served as her life’s compass. She embraced her status as an outspoken and independent woman at a time when society was less excepting of strong female figures. Her Gen Z grandchildren describe her as “Queen.”
Service to others defined her professional life. She was a vocal advocate for social justice including civil rights activism in Virginia during the 1950s, on behalf of disabled children and single mothers during the 1960s and ‘70s, and her greatest passion, supporting survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Throughout her life, she was reliably outspoken regarding women’s empowerment and the need for legal reforms and local support systems that protect women and children from violence. Having relocated to Columbia, Tennessee, in the 1980s to rejoin extended family, Merle was instrumental in establishing the Center of Hope (previously known as Hope House) in Maury County, Tennessee. She served as a ”Founding Mother,” Board Member, and Chair of the Board. Center of Hope provides support and services to survivors of domestic violence and promotes justice for victims of crime and abuse, their families, and the community, as a means of building and promoting a safer society. For twenty years she served the community as a mental health practitioner and advocate with the Maury County Mental Health Center and in private practice in Columbia and Crossville, Tennessee, retiring at the age of 75.
Merle was born in 1937 in Roanoke, Virginia, to Coy Raymond Ridinger and Merle Ellen Whitlock. She grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia, where she was active in sports, church life, and graduated valedictorian of her high school class. She and her first husband, Dr. Richard E. Weingart, married in 1960 following graduation from college – she from William and Mary and he from Hampden-Sydney. The two relocated to Connecticut for graduate education at Yale University. Their union was blessed by the birth of their daughter, Kiki, but ended tragically when a drunk driver took the life of her husband. Merle remarried in 1971 to the Reverend R. Russell Peery and the two blended their families and embarked on a fifty-year journey together.
As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Merle dedicated her professional life to serving and supporting those that society tends to marginalize. She completed her LCSW clinical internship with women incarcerated in the state prison system, followed by employment with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families where she focused on at-risk children. She worked for the Oak Hill School for the Blind and then Avery Heights Senior Living where she met and married Russell. The two joyously celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in December of 2021.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Center of Hope located in Tennessee. All donations made in Merle Peery’s name will be matched 1:1 by her family. To make a donation visit the link below. Checks may be mailed to Center of Hope, P.O. Box 1961, Columbia, TN 38402 to the attention of Brooke Osborn. To learn more about the mission and services of Center of Hope visit: https://centerofhopetn.org
A memorial and burial service will be held at Polk Memorial Gardens in Columbia, Tennessee, at a date to be determined.
Russ's obituary may be accessed here. https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/tampa-fl/ralph-peery-10834404