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Published: Thursday, 8/29/2013

Merlyn H. Downing [1927-2013]; Banking chairman started as clerk

Downing Downing

TECUMSEH, Mich. — Merlyn H. Downing, who rose from bank clerk to chairman of United Bank & Trust and who was a civic leader and an effective fund-raiser for community projects, died Saturday in the Hospice of Lenawee Hospice Home. He was 85.

He had Parkinson’s disease and was in declining health the last six months, his daughter, Tammy Dana-Bashian, said.

Mr. Downing retired in 1992 and was named a director emeritus of the bank. He was hired 46 years earlier as a clerk, with occasional janitorial duties, at United Savings Bank of Tecumseh, as it was known then. He had a high school diploma and took occasional classes at a banking school, but his training was on the job. “He learned by observing and absorbing,” his daughter said. Bank executives discerned his potential and encouraged him in his career. “He was very self-motivated,” his daughter said.

Mr. Downing’s family and friends heard regularly from those who said his help meant they could buy their first house or start a business or that his advice got them out of a financial jam.

“He was the old-time banker,” said Rich Laliberte, a retired site administrator for ProMedica’s Herrick Medical Center, where Mr. Downing was a board member. “He would make people prosper ... He got a lot of people started in that community.”

Mr. Downing by 1960 was named a director of the bank. He became executive vice president in 1972 and president in 1977. He was made chairman of the board and chief executive in 1986.

He was a founder of the Tecumseh Community Foundation and a founding director and treasurer of Hospice of Lenawee County. He led fund-raising efforts for the hospital and the community aquatic center.

“He was very determined,” Mr. Laliberte said. “He was a quiet, gentle man who was sincere. In that quietness and sincerity, there was a firmness that came across to you, and you automatically liked the man.”

He received the ProMedica and Maple Leaf awards. He and his wife, Myrna, also were recognized for their service to Tecumseh.

He was born Oct. 15, 1927, in Britton, Mich., to Vera and Harry Downing. He was 14 months old when his mother died. He was raised by an uncle and aunt, Leland and Fannie Downing. Later, he took in his mother-in-law, Freida Beevers, and opened the family home to others who needed a place to stay.

“He just thrived on helping people, and it wasn’t just his job. It was his life,” his daughter said.

He was a 1945 graduate of Britton-Macon High School. He was named grand marshal of Britton’s first homecoming parade in 2010.

Surviving are his wife, Myrna, whom he married Aug. 11, 1950; sons, Ken and Jeffrey; daughter, Tammy Dana-Bashian; five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Visitation is 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. today in the Tecumseh Anderson Funeral Home, Tecumseh. Services are 11 a.m. Friday in Tecumseh United Methodist Church, where visitation will begin at 10 a.m.

The family suggests tributes to Hospice of Lenawee Hospice Home or Tecumseh United Methodist Church, where he was a member.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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