When John Merchant (79) attended Morehead State, he did so for several reasons. He had a cousin who went there. He wanted to get a change of scenery from his hometown of Lexington, Ky. It was where his high school sweetheart and future wife, Debra (79) wanted to go to school and he certainly wanted to join her.Merchant enrolled at MSU in 1975 with aspirations to become a lawyer. As a double major in political science and economics, he said the smaller class sizes and personal attention he received from the faculty proved invaluable.“I received excellent instruction from my professors,” Merchant said. “It was important for me to get a good education. For you to go to law school, you need to do well in your undergraduate studies.”After graduating from MSU, Merchant was accepted into law school at the University of Kentucky. He then practiced law independently for a year before working in Kentucky state government. He served as an administrative assistant to Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear from 1983-87 and later as a staff attorney for the Finance and Administration Cabinet of the Commonwealth under Gov. Wallace Wilkinson from 1987 to 1991.Through his contacts with various law firms in Kentucky, Merchant landed a job as an associate for Peck, Shaffer & Williams in 1991 before becoming a partner in 1994. His work in public finance law, and particularly bonds, gives him a sense of pride as he helps to shape the city around him, through his work with Cincinnati projects such as The Banks, Water Works and Vernon Manor.“What I’ve enjoyed doing here in Cincinnati is watching the landscape change,” he said. “It’s a nice mix of the political aspect and helping these municipalities do these things that benefit the citizens.”For Merchant, hitting the books both in the classroom and in the office has paid off. The long-time partner at the law firm was recently named managing partner of the firm’s largest office in Cincinnati.On his way to becoming managing partner of the Peck, Shaffer & Williams Cincinnati office, Merchant has made it a point to stay active both with his alma mater and in his community. He formerly served as president of the MSU Alumni Association.
Currently, he’s serving his second term as chair of the Board of Regents, making him the first African-American chair in the University’s history. He also serves on the boards of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation.
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