“I’ve always loved animals. When I was young, we had ducks, chickens, turkeys, peacocks, and goats living in my backyard. CAW CAW CACAW!! Our neighbors hated the peacocks. That was my favorite hobby back then, taking care of the animals,” Frank said.
“When I showed up at M-A,” he continued, “I had a bad middle school GPA from Encinal. I had a ADHD as a kid, so school was hard for me. My counselor wanted to sign me up for Woodshop and metal shop classes and train me to be a mechanic. My mother marched over there and said, ‘Absolutely not!’ She went apeshit on that poor lady.” Brown added, “I didn’t know his mother, but from what I’ve heard, she was quite a force.”
Merrill’s love for taking care of animals at home translated into a passion for high school science classes. He credited his M-A science teacher Harry Wong for inspiring him to become a veterinarian.
Merrill went on to study Animal Science at Cal Poly Slo. Midway through college, he decided he wanted to go to veterinary school. “By that point, I’d learned how to harness my ADHD and was a much better student,” he explained. “But I still got rejected from the veterinary schools I applied to.”
So, instead of setting out on the traditional path from college to veterinary school, Merrill moved to a ranch with one of his buddies. “We were gonna make a fortune selling beef to McDonalds, but that plan blew up because the U.S. cattle producers put the kibosh on it,” he said.
After abandoning the cattle ranch, Merrill decided he might as well go to veterinary school. By then, he was 31 years old. He attended veterinary school at the University of the Philippines before moving back to California.
“I really enjoyed the thrill of my veterinary work,” he explained. “When someone comes into the emergency room with a dog that just got hit by a car, it’s definitely an adrenaline rush. I got very good at focusing and figuring out what was going on.”
Early on in his career, Merrill worked night shifts at a horse track in Mountain View. He remembered, “I’d take my kids to daycare in the morning after my shift, and then come home to take a nap. One afternoon, I drove over to cash a check at the bank in my little yellow Volkswagen on my way to pick up the kids from daycare and—this will really surprise Nancy—I fell asleep in the parking lot.”
“Frank could fall asleep on a rock!” Brown teased.
Merrill continued, “When I didn’t show up to pick up the kids, the daycare lady called my wife, my wife called the bank, the bank said they hadn’t seen me, so my wife called the police thinking I had been abducted. I woke up to a policeman tapping on my window.”
This incident was a both literal and figurative wake-up call for Merrill. He decided to stop working night shifts to make more time for his family. “I wanted to coach my kids’ sports teams, and just be present and part of their lives. I didn’t want to be up all night anymore,” he explained. He then shifted to working with small animals and started his own veterinary business in Burlingame.
Merrill’s advice to current M-A students: “Own what you do. I consider one of the most important things I learned as a young man, as an eagle scout, is personal responsibility. My advice is to put in a lot of effort early on—meaning now, in high school and college. A lot of those guys who were always messing around and doing drugs in high school, that really didn’t help them 25 years later. They didn’t get where they wanted to be, in part because they just didn’t put in the work.”
Brown added: “Now, Frank and I don’t always agree on these things. We were both fortunate enough to have parents that were involved. Frank had two parents growing up. My dad died when I was 12, but my mom was very involved. Not everybody has that luxury. Some people can pull it out and still make it, but others struggle because they don’t have that guidance. That’s where schools come in—hopefully M-A is still doing a pretty good job at that.”
These days, Merrill enjoys veterinary-related and other volunteer work. He regularly volunteers treating homeless peoples’ animals in San Diego, and the M-A Bear News interviewed him in 2015 for heading a project building the Rich May Memorial Athletic Field in East Palo Alto. He also enjoys reading nonfiction, especially biographies. “Even though I’m in the fourth quarter, I just want to learn as much as I can,” he said.