Floyd Withers Sonny Merryman, Jr., co-founder of the Thomas Built Buses dealer network in Virgina that bears his name and a Virginia Association of Pupil Transportation Hall of Fame member, passed away peacefully in his sleep on Saturday. He was 89.
Known simply as Sonny, Merryman and wife "Lou" founded Sonny Merryman Inc., in 1967 as a dealer of small trailer equipment and buses. Today, the company has three locations with 125 employees across Virginia. A memorial service and celebration of Merryman's life has yet to be formerly announced, but it will be held at Snidon Chapel on the campus of Lynchburg College near Merryman's lifelong home town of Rustburg.
Born July 23, 1924 in Rustburg, Merryman graduated from Rustburg High School in 1942 and went on to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, now known as Virginia Tech, to pursue a degree in animal husbandry. While at Virginia Tech, he joined the Virginia Tech Corp of Cadets and was a drummer in the Highty-Tighties Regimental Band, which has been in continual existence since 1892 and has participated in presidential inaugurations, world fairs and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, just to name a few.
In the meantime, Merryman volunteered for military service in WWII but never served active duty because of poor eyesight. Despite never graduating the university, he received the Ruffner Medal in 2006, the highest individual honor bestowed by Virgina Tech that recognizes a lifetime of contributions and service to the university.
Following the war he founded the Rustburg Block Company that manufactured cinder blocks and installed septic tanks to meet the needs of the construction boom. In 1953, he moved to Roanoke to assist his ailing father and to work as a sales representative of Smith-Moore Body Company, a dealer of trailers, dump bodies and specialized transportation equipment. It was at Smith-Moore where he honed his salesmanship that later made Sonny Merryman Inc., a success in the school bus industry. He often said his career was one of turning yellow into green.
Looking for a school bus dealer in Virginia and having heard of his sales acumen, Thomas Built Buses approached Merryman in 1967 to represent the manufacturer. The relationship has lasted 42 years, and continues.
"Sonny Merryman was a pioneer in the pupil transportation industry," Ken Hedgecock, vice president of sales, marketing and service at Thomas Built Buses, told STN. "He leaves a wonderful legacy and will truly be missed. Thomas Built Buses is very grateful for all of his contributions to our success."
Merryman drew upon his success to grant more than $1 million in college scholarships and financial aid to students attending Virgina Tech and financially supported local fire departments and emergency proviers, Centra Health Foundation, the Salvation Army, area YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, Junior Achievement, Presbyterian Homes, Boy Scouts of America and the Rustburg Methodist Church.
VAPT inducted Merryman into its Hall of Fame in 2002 for lifetime contributions to public education and promoting school bus safety. He is the only dealer principal to be honored by the state association.
He is survived by wife Francis Taylor "Lou" Merryman; daughter A. Patricia "Pat" Merryman; son Floyd W. Merryman, III; grandson M. Lee Merryman; and a large extended family. He was preceded in death by his parents, Floyd. W. and Margaret Muldowney Merryman; sister Anne Merryman Evans; and brother Thomas Merryman.
Obituary Source: Sonny Merryman, Inc.