There was a time in the Augusta area when Woody Merry appeared in as many media reports as any local political leader.
The community activist spoke up, yelled when he thought it necessary, formed nonprofit groups to try to engage other residents in taking ownership of their government, and sued the city when he perceived waste, fraud and abuse.
For his efforts, Merry was cheered by some and jeered by others.
“I really do miss it, but it was time,” he said of the activist days. It was an 11-year quest, he said, “and it was not easy.”
The businessman and Augusta native has always had pet causes – an annual horse show to raise money to help children, and helping to raise more than $1 million to lure Continental Airlines to Augusta, for example.
It was his other causes that propelled Merry into the center of city government controversies. He led an early challenge to plans to relocate Hyde Park residents, questioned the purchase of land for the judicial center and criticized a plan to build a drag strip in south Augusta across from where a commissioner’s son planned to set up a snack shop.
Merry also joined legal challenges, suing the city over commissioners’ use of abstentions to prevent votes on controversial issues. That case went all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court.
He also joined the Association for Fair Government and the lawsuits against the city over its purchasing practices – which remains a controversy – and the public’s access to open records.
It was hard to stand up alone, Merry said. He was alone when he faced a much larger man, Bill Fennoy, and confronted the Coliseum Authority board member about his absenteeism. There was pushing, and Merry landed on the floor and received a couple of kicks from Fennoy, witnesses said.
A resolution worked out by the State Court solicitor resolved the incident without a trial but required Merry to write a letter of apology and behave himself at public meetings.
“Everybody talks about someone needing to do something,” Merry said. “I was the butt of a lot a cruel jokes and a lot of editorials that were not fair.
“I did not do this but for one reason: to help the community.”
Merry considered his public stands a risk to his business and personal finances, especially after a Federal Communications Commission investigator appeared on his doorstep one morning.
The investigator pored over every securities transaction Merry made, starting in 1975, Merry said. The investigation resulted
from an anonymous tip, “and he didn’t find a thing,” he said.
Merry said he loves his work as a retirement planning specialist too much to retire himself. He has limited the number of clients he sees, though.
He and his wife travel a lot now and spend time at their beach house.
Merry was thrilled to receive an invitation to join the Office of Strategic Services Society, a nonprofit dedicated to honoring the deeds and spirit of the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, which was formed to gather information during World War II.
Merry continues to volunteer during the Masters Tournament, and he has a new project that includes coordinating efforts to renovate a home for an elderly blind woman whose current home is unfit.
She worked with mentally challenged adults for 37 years and deserves better, Merry said.
He is still interested in the workings of the city government but said the soapbox days are over.