Lake Highlands has lost a true lighthouse of a man, retired Judge Merrill Hartman. Hartman died Saturday after a lengthy struggle with Parkinson’s.

I first got to know Merrill when we joined the same Sunday School class at Lake Highlands United Methodist Church. Over several years with a variety of lesson leaders and class officers, Merrill became the natural North Star for all of us, guiding us with his words of wisdom and steadfast convictions. His knowledge of history and the bible was overwhelming, but his heart was even more impressive than his mind.

After years of giving legal assistance to the poor in Dallas, he started the South Dallas Legal Clinic and, over the years, recruited other friends and colleagues to volunteer their services there or begin new clinics in other neighborhoods. Today, particularly selfless lawyers who do outstanding work for the needy receive the highly-coveted Merrill Hartman Award.

Merrill became a family court judge in 1984 and received honors too numerous to mention, including the Judge Learned Hand Award, presented by the American Jewish Committee ten years ago today. The Merrill Hartman Courtroom in the George Allen courthouse is named in his honor (and if you’re a fan of the new NBC drama The Chase, the show did some filming in Merrill’s courtroom this August).

If he was frustrated by the ravages of Parkinson’s on his body he didn’t express it, choosing instead to focus on the positive – especially his family and friends. Merrill married Sally, his elementary school sweetheart, and they’ve been a force for good ever since. We’ve written here on the blog and in Advocate Magazines about their son Max, who’s been performing in plays, musicals, lounge acts and Hollywood movies since his days on the stage at Lake Highlands High School. Sister Melissa is also a singer, dancer and actress when she finds time while working as a teacher in New York. Both received many an encore call when starring in Artists of Christian Talent (ACT) productions at LHUMC.

Daughter Melinda followed closely in her dad’s footsteps, becoming an attorney and providing pro bono legal help to the needy. Her children have been the apple of Grandpa Merrill’s eye, featured prominently in the Hartman’s Christmas cards over the years.

Lake Highlands has been lucky to have Merrill among us. His leadership and his legacy will be felt for generations to come.