Former New Hampshire Governor Steve Merrill was remembered at a public memorial service outside the State House Friday as the rare person who combined political skill, intellect and humor in equal measure.
"I found out very quickly that Steve Merrill was a serious person, on serious issues, who didn't take himself too seriously,” recalled former Gov. John H. Sununu, who hired Merrill to his first state post as his administration's legal counsel.
Merrill, who served as New Hampshire’s attorney general before being elected governor in 1992, died last week at the age of 74. He won a second term in the corner office in 1994, by one of the widest victory margins in recent state history.
As governor, Merrill was known for his outgoing personality and his devotion to New Hampshire’s tradition of limited government. He’s widely credited with coining the phrase “the New Hampshire Advantage” to describe his belief in the allure of the state’s tax structure.
Merrill’s service Friday drew a cast of political veterans to the State House plaza: former governors, senators and state lawmakers. They described him as a man of many gifts.
Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte said Merrill could have been a comedian if he’d wanted to. She said she and Merrill had nicknames for each other, derived from her first campaign, which Merrill led. She called Merrill “Chairman;” Merrill called her “Candidate.”
Former Gov. Craig Benson said Merrill was always available to offer encouragement or advice. And former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice John Broderick, who was Merrill’s law partner, said it’s hard to imagine life with him.
“I met him in the mid- to late- 1970s, and I fell in love with him,” Broderick said. “He was the single most interesting person that I have ever known.”