The qualities that made Herman Mertins a great leader also made him a great person, according to those who knew and worked with him.
Mertins, former WVU faculty member and vice president of Administration, Finance and Human Resources, died Wednesday at his home in Pinehurst, N.C., following a short battle with skin cancer. He was 79.
Herman Mertins at WVU11/1/69 - Research associate professor, Bureau for Government Research associate professor, political science, College of Arts and Sciences
07/01/73 - Professor, political science, College of Arts and Sciences
07/01/79 - Chairperson, political science, College of Arts and Sciences
12/10/81 - Acting vice president for administration
09/01/82 - Vice president for administration and finance
8/15/95 - Special assistant to the president
8/16/96 - 12/31/98 _ Professor
“He was one of the most effective public leaders I’ve ever known,” Gerald Pops, Mertins’ colleague in the department of public administration said. “He was eternally upbeat and he always had a vision of where he wanted to go.
“He was a very giving kind of guy and gave great advice for anybody who asked. I think it was part of his administrative style to look after the welfare of people, to make sure they were attuned to opportunities in their own environment and give them a chance to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Another friend and colleague, Robert DiClerico, from the department of political science, remembers Mertins as being down-to-earth and possessing a warm personality and sharp wit.
“He was refreshingly informal,” DiClerico said. “Despite having achieved high administrative positions, there was no sense of self-importance about him. He had a marvelous sense of humor. He appreciated the ironies in life and the humor in life.”
Originally hired in 1969 as a faculty member in WVU’s department of political science, Mertins severed as vice president from 1981-96 under former presidents Gordon Gee and Neil Bucklew.
Bucklew said his relationship with Mertins quickly evolved from professional to personal after he began his tenure as president in 1986.
“We worked together for the whole term of my presidency, which was 10 years,” Bucklew said. “We worked really well together professionally and that grew into a close, personal friendship. We were golf buddies. After he retired, I visited him in North Carolina a number of times and my home was often a stop for him when he came back to Morgantown for a visit.”
Bucklew said Mertins’ even temperament was one of his biggest assets. Also, having been a faculty member and chair, Mertins had considerable insight into the procedures and policies of WVU, along with the bigger picture of its mission and strategies.
“What comes to mind is what a thoughtful nice guy he was,” he said. “His personality style was always thoughtful. He always considered the alternative and didn’t rush to judgment.
“He was a man with good sense of humor, not a person who displayed anger. He was fun to be around and easy to work with.”
Margaret Phillips, who reported to Mertins before she became vice president for WVU Human Resources, described his sense of humor as “legendary.”
“I can honestly say that Herman Mertins was a not only a wonderful public administrator, but a genuinely nice guy, a great boss, a gentleman, and his sense of humor was legendary. His passing is a great loss for all of us,” she said.
As a vice president, Mertins worked as the liaison between the University and state legislature as well as the city of Morgantown. He worked on such projects as WVU’s Clean Coal Generation plant and served on the board of WVU Hospitals for 10 years.
For much of his time as a vice president, DiClerico said, WVU faced a variety of challenges, particularly budgetary, that Mertins helped to overcome.
“The budgetary waters for a University are never calm,” DiClerico said, “but during that period they were very stormy indeed at WVU. Despite the severe budget constraints and reversions, the University navigated through rough waters with remarkable agility and minimal dislocation to faculty and staff. That was in large part due to ‘Mert’s’ extraordinary political ingenuity and savvy.”
“He was well respected in Charleston,” he said. “He was a businessman who listened well. He was fair and considerate. He was a superb guy.”
In 1995, he received the inaugural Mertins Leadership award, which is given annually to former or current WVU administrators who have demonstrated consistent advocacy for the advancement of classified staff at WVU and demonstrated long-range enhancements of classified staff programs.
He was a professor of public administration at WVU from 1969 to 1981 and served as chair of that department for eight years. During his career at WVU, Mertins chaired several task forces and committees including WVU’s United Way Campaign. He was the faculty representative for the WVU Athletic Council from 1976-78.
“Because he was so highly talented as an administrator, he had opportunities to join several institutions over the course of his career,” DiClerico said. “That he decided to stay here speaks admirably to the depth of his commitment to West Virginia University.”
Mertins received his undergraduate degree from Drew University in New Jersey where he was a four-year letterman baseball pitcher and served as Student Body President from 1952-53. Mertins received his master’s and doctorate degrees from the Maxwell School of Public Adminstration at Syracuse University. He was also a visiting professor of Public Administration at the University of Southern California and Williamette University in Salem, Oregon, in the mid 70s.
An avid golfer, “Mert,” as he was known to friends and colleagues, was a resident of the Pinewild Golf Community and was an original member of the Pines Country Club in Morgantown.
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Barbara, two sons, Glenn and Gary, two sisters and five grandchildren.
Services will held Saturday, March 5th at 3 p.m. at the Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines, N.C. A gathering at the Pinewild Country Club will follow the service. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to: WVU Foundation Inc., One Waterfront Place – 7th Floor PO Box 1650 Morgantown, WV 26507-1650.
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