Merle S. Downs passed peacefully from this earth surrounded by family at the age of 98.
Merle was born during the Roaring 20’s to Elsa and Hans Steinman in Berkeley, California. Merle joined brother Eugene and was raised and educated in Berkeley. With the backdrop of the San Francisco Bay, Merle attended local public schools developing friendships that lasted a lifetime. Her memories of traveling to Pinecrest with her neighbors in the 1930’s, before sleeping bags had been invented, were responsible for the cabin our parents purchased 1962. The World’s Fair which landed in Treasure Island in 1939, was another sweet memory as she and her girlfriends would hang out there often as teenagers.
1941 brought a new chapter to Merle’s life when she encountered a handsome funeral director from Berkeley named Saxon Downs, whose birthday was coming up soon. Merle baked him chocolate chip cookies and won his heart. Then Pearl Harbor erupted and Saxon joined the Navy. Merle and Saxon hurriedly were married on August 8, 1942, as he was shipped out for two years the following week.
Merle worked in San Francisco at Bank of America in J.P. Giannini’s office and lived with her mother as she waited for her new husband’s return. Merle was the executive secretary at B of A and was fast and accurate. Those secretarial skills came in handy for much of her life as she assisted Saxon with his many community endeavors.
In 1944, Saxon returned from the Pacific Rim and was reunited with his bride. They moved to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, where one-year later son Douglas was born. Bringing their infant son across the U.S., Merle and Saxon relocated to San Carlos, CA, and had their first daughter Jane.
Forming a partnership with Lewis E. Franklin, the young family moved to Modesto to begin Saxon’s long career as co-owner of Franklin and Downs Funeral Home. Judi and Jennifer were born and Merle’s permanent home was found.
Merle quickly developed many friendships from learning the game of bridge as she became an avid player. She also learned to play golf as she and Saxon were long-standing members of Del Rio Golf and Country club. Merle volunteered often as she was a member of the philanthropic organization of PEO, worked at the Clothes Closet, volunteered for the American Cancer Society’s “Reach for Recovery” and the First United Methodist Church, among many others. Meanwhile, Merle and Saxon traveled the world during their 66 years of marriage.
Merle was a great mom, loyal friend, funny, a thoughtful shopper, a perfect gift giver, talkative, engaging, articulate, endearing, and always involved in her friends’ and families’ lives. Her final years at Bethel Retirement Community, were the same as she developed close friendships there as well. Unfortunately, dementia in her late 90’s diminished that exuberant personality.
Merle was preceded in death by husband Saxon Downs, both of her parents, and brother Gene. She is survived by son Douglas Downs (Johnna), daughters Jane Taylor (Mark), Judi Downing (Buck), Jennifer Colby (Rob), and grandchildren: Anne Goldsmith (Dan), Amy Vizzolini, Rob Vizzolini, Zachary Downing (Shannon) and Elizabeth Jesberg (Darin). She is also survived by 6 great-grandchildren.
We would like to thank the administrative staff and caregivers at Bethel Independent and Assisted Living as they served Merle expertly and lovingly over the past 10 years and helped her through the final stages of life. The family suggests a donation to Community Hospice, 4368 Spyres Way, Modesto, CA, 95356, or to a favored charity in Merle’s memory.
Franklin and Downs is honored to serve the Downs family. The family invites you to attend a graveside service on Friday, September 25th at 12 noon at Lakewood Memorial Park to honor Merle Downs’s life.
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