Merle Willhoite Conley

Portrait of Merle Willhoite Conley Headstone Photograph Headstone Photograph

Full Name: Merle Willhoite Conley
Location: Section:Patriots' Hill, Section 1 (A)
Row:H  Number:19
Reason for Eligibility: Wife of Carl Calvin Conley 
Birth Date: July 13, 1928 
Died: April 14, 2019 
Burial Date: April 18, 2019 

CONLEY, MERLE WILLHOITE (1928 ~ 2019). The following is an obituary for Merle Conley, spouse of former Texas House Member Carl Calvin Conley. The obituary was provided by Weed, Corley, Fish Funeral Home of Austin. 

A beautiful stream of light appeared at dawn on Sunday, April 14, 2019 as our dear mother and grandmother, Merle Willhoite Conley, passed away surrounded by family at her home in Austin, Texas.

Merle Conley was a faithful and loving Christian servant whose favorite Commandment was “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”.

She was born in Houston, Texas on July 13, 1928 to O.A. and Edith Willhoite. She met the love of her life, Carl Conley, while she was an undergraduate student at the University of Texas in Austin and Carl was a student at U.T.’s School of Law. Carl always said, “Merle was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.”

At UT, Merle was a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority, Freshman and Sophomore Class Council, Association for Childhood Education, and Home Economics Club. She was chair of the UT Intramurals, and competed in everything from badminton and bowling to softball. While at UT, she owned and operated the Austin Tot Shop located at the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs on 24th Street.

Carl and Merle were married in Austin, and later moved to the family ranch in Raymondville, where they raised four daughters, he practiced law, and served as Willacy County District Attorney and as member of the Texas House of Representatives. They loved horseback riding, hunting and volunteering.

Merle was a big part of Carl’s success in politics. She campaigned tirelessly for him. She also worked on campaigns for Texas Governor Preston Smith, Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr and others. She was chairman of the State Democratic Executive Committee.

Merle served as president of the Raymondville Woman’s Club; P.E.O. (whose mission it is to provide educational opportunities for women); The Aquatic Club. She was a member of the Junior Service League and the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs.

She volunteered for the American Heart Association and Cancer Society, was a Brownie and Girl Scout leader, and Sunday school teacher.

The Conleys’ lives came full circle when they returned to Austin more than a decade ago to retire and be near their children and grandchildren. They remained active in many Austin civic groups.

Merle Conley is survived by her sister Laurine McKinney of Franklin, Tennessee; daughters and sons-in-law Camille (Clay) Cipione, Cathy (David) Swofford, Claire (Bill) Selman, Carla (Tom) Clowe; her grandchildren Suzanne Huff, Marie-Claire Huff, Monique (Luke) Wise, Jennifer (David) Pierson, Clinton (Kendal) Huff, Wade Swofford, Will Swofford, Wes (Brittany) Selman, Jill Selman, Colleen (Bill) Lang, Catherine (Brent) Bauer, Lynette (Craig) Brownlee, Charles (Ruth) Cipione; her great grandchildren Madeline and Rebecca Pierson, Walker and Caroline Lang, Kenneth, Haynes, and Adelaide Bauer, Ben, Anne, and Charles Jr. Cipione.

She was preceded in death by her parents, husband, brother Warren Willhoite and son-in-law Kenneth Haynes.

Please join us in the celebration of Merle’s life on Thursday, April 18th at Weed Corley Fish Funeral Home, 3125 North Lamar Blvd in Austin. Visitation at 1 pm and Memorial Service at 2 pm with Jason Butler officiating. Burial and reception will immediately follow at the Texas State Cemetery, 909 Navasota Street in Austin.

Merle’s favorite non-profit has always been Sunny Glen Children’s Home, a sanctuary for abused and neglected children in the Rio Grande Valley. Should you so desire, contributions can be made in her memory to Sunny Glen at or to Highland Village Church of Christ in Austin at

Pallbearers are her grandsons: Wade Swofford, Will Swofford, David Pierson, Luke Wise, Bill Lang, Brent Bauer and Wes Selman.

Honorary pallbearers are David Swofford, Clay Cipione, Tom Clowe, Bill Selman, Julian Libersat, Jeffrey Libersat, Glenn Harding, Douglas Harding, Darron Fleming, Ernie Zamora, and Ernesto Lefty Cavazos.

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