The granddaughter of a steelworker, Dr. Mertz was born April 2, 1928 in Pittsburgh PA to cellist George H. Wilkins, Jr. and teacher Mary (Lemon) Wilkins, was raised in Pittsburgh with her two brothers, Donald Wilkins, M.A. Music, and Robert Wilkins, MD (both now deceased), was active in the Calvary Episcopal Church, and especially loved to sing in the church choir. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University and went on to be one of only four women in the graduating Cornell University Medical College class of 1952. In 1951 she married a fellow Cornell medical school student, and after graduation, they pursued their medical internships in Portland, Oregon and medical residencies on Oahu, Hawaii. She completed her residency in Psychiatry in 1960 and held multiple positions in the State of Hawaii Health Department, including Chief of the Windward Mental Health Center, Executive Officer of the Mental Health Division, Administrator of the Hawaii State Hospital, Hawaii District Health Officer in Hilo, and Deputy Director of Health for the entire State. Dr. Mertz had five children before divorcing in 1970. From 1978 to 1994, Dr. Mertz worked as a California State staff psychiatrist and forensic psychiatry expert in Sacramento and at Atascadero State Hospital.
Dr. Mertz chaired and brought her expertise to countless commissions, task forces, committees, and professional associations. She worked tirelessly throughout her career to promote understanding of the needs of, and to champion the rights of and better treatments for, people with mental illness, living in poverty, suffering from abuse, or with disabilities. She also was a strong advocate for women and children, supporting the National Organization of Women, the Equal Rights Amendment, and Planned Parenthood for many years. She attended the United Nations Conference on Women in 1980, and many women's marches in Washington, DC and Los Angeles, CA, inspiring many younger women with her activism.
Upon her retirement in July 1994, she continued supporting organizations that championed the rights of society's most disadvantaged. She also took up trekking and traveling in Africa, Nepal, Borneo, and California, gardening, singing in Sweet Adelines, and continued doting on her six grandchildren. In 1994, she became the first head volunteer organizer/gardener for the AIDS Living Memorial Grove at El Chorro Park, outside of San Luis Obispo, established to commemorate all those devastated by the AIDS epidemic. She oversaw its development into a peaceful oasis of California native plants.
She lived out her last days in her beloved California, among her cherished native plants and flowers, and near her California-based daughter and grandchildren. A long life well lived, and beloved by so many. May she rest in peace. Contributions in her honor to a local mental health charity, or Orangutan Foundation International, would be greatly appreciated.
Our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased