W. Caton Merchant Jr., 60, the founder and president of Merchant's Tire Co., which operates more than 50 Firestone outlets in the District, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, died of a heart attack Aug. 20 at his home in Manassas.

Mr. Merchant, a lifelong resident of Manassas, graduated from Osborne High School. He worked briefly for the Woodward & Lothrop department store, and then, at the age of 20, started Merchant's Firestone in Manassas in 1943. This became Merchant's Tire Co. and is said to be one of the largest tire dealerships in the country.

Mr. Merchant was a former vice chairman of the People's National Bank in Manassas.

In civic affairs, he was fund-raising chairman for the Prince William Hospital in Manassas and president of its board of directors from the time the facility opened in 1964 until his death. In 1963, he received the Outstanding Citizenship Award from the Prince William County Federation of Citizens and the Outstanding Community Service Award from the Greater Manassas Junior Chamber of Commerce.

He also was a deacon of the Manassas Baptist Church, a Mason and a Shriner, and a member of the Manassas Volunteer Fire Department, Rotary International and Kiwanis International. He helped found the Manassas Little League and sponsored teams for the past 32 years.

Survivors include his wife, Mae Shortt Merchant of Manassas; three children, Linda Bell of Dallas, Tex., Carol Burwell of Manassas, and Dr. Wilson Caton Jr. of Richmond; his mother, Mrs. Wilson C. Merchant Sr. of Manassas, and nine grandchildren.