(May 9, 1:20 p.m.) Tom Merrill, the former president of Salinas, Calif.-based Merrill Farms LLC, has died at the age of 79.

Merrill took over the family-owned vegetable operation after his father, company founder T.R. Merrill, died in 1963. Merrill served as president until he retired in 2000 and was succeeded by his son Ross; no other family members work at the company.

Merrill served the produce industry as chairman of Western Growers Association and as president of the Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association of Central California. He also served as a board member for the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, the Central California Lettuce Producers Cooperative, the California Iceberg Lettuce Commission and the Lettuce Research Advisory Board. He also served as an officer or board member for several community organizations.

Western Growers presented Merrill with its award of honor in 2003.

“He always believed in giving back to the community, whether it was his money or his time,” said his daughter, Joanne Merrill. “He believed in being involved.”

Other survivors include his wife Susan, son Brian, daughter Lynn Paduck and seven grandchildren.