SUNBURY -Governor Tom Corbett said Monday that Merle Phillips "helped build a better Pennsylvania for all of us."
Phillips was a state representative for more than 30 years. He passed away Monday and those who knew him said he will be dearly missed.
"He had a wicked sense of humor. If you know him, he was kind of a dry, reserved, you know he was Dutch. But he did have a wicked sense of humor. He loved to play little practical jokes," said Representative Lynda Schlegel-Culver, Phillips' successor.
Merle Phillips was a state representative in the 108th District for more than 30 years, starting in 1980.
For more than 20 years, Lynda Schlegel-Culver worked at Phillips' Sunbury office in Northumberland County.
When her Republican mentor retired in 2010, she ran for his position and won.
"He and I remained close friends after he left the office and when I was sworn in and he would always say, 'Are you taking time out for your son? Are you taking time out for your husband? Make sure you're going to church.' He was adamant about that part of your life. "
After his retirement, Phillips, a former Marine who served in the Korean War, was called upon to serve as as a Northumberland County Commissioner.
At the time, he was 82 years old.
"I decided, well, maybe I could use the knowledge I have and a make a difference in Northumberland County," he said at the time.
Whether they agreed with his politics or not, people said Merle Phillips did make a difference.
"Even though we wrote letters back and forth in the Daily Item against each other, he was always right across the street here, always waving and said 'hello' on his way out the door and so did I. I got along with Merle," said Gary Poole, who lives in Sunbury, across the street from Phillips' former office.
Representative Culver said Phillips was a staunch supporter of fire companies, libraries, and veterans, and was a man who worked tirelessly for the area he loved.
"If you knew him, he had a Dutch accent, sometimes hard to understand and he would say that was his greatest tool because people wouldn't understand him and assume he wasn't as smart as he was and he would continue on and get done what he wanted to get done and before anybody knew it, he had done what he intended to do. "
Phillips had health issues in the past few years, including a type of blood cancer.
He is survived by his wife, five children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.