My sad duty is to report that the Spy’s dear friend and weekly columnist George Merrill passed away last night, Easter Sunday, surrounded by his loved ones.
After a career that included being an ordained Episcopal priest and pastoral psychotherapist, George pursued his life passion as a writer with two books of spirituality, a monthly broadcast program on Delmarva Public Radio and, starting in 2014, a weekly Sunday column in the Spy newspapers. He completed his last column yesterday, which can be read here.
In all, George contributed 353 essays to the Spy. Each of them was filled with wisdom, warmth, humor, self-awareness, and a special divine gift of communicating the uniqueness of life. He always found his own way to bring grace into these conversations; from the micro-wonders of a ladybug or defending Chesapeake Bay nettles to the larger themes of justice and world peace.
That was certainly the case when George received a terminal leukemia diagnosis last summer. Faced with this devastating news, he reached out to me to discuss both his prognosis and his Sunday column. And based on his conversations with his lovely wife (and devoted editor), Jo, he decided to continue writing as long as he could to share and provide some comfort to his weekly readers about the process and even some of the joys that come with dying.
That goal, which now represents 17 remarkable essays, has attracted over 10,000 readers for this small publication. From all parts of the country and other parts of the world, George painstakingly documented his illness, his ups, and his very real downs while demonstrating in each one of them the power of love over adversity.
A few months ago, George and Jo asked me to come over for cocktails to talk about the column. And as George was sipping his beloved martini while looking over a splendid Chesapeake Bay sunset, he noted how touched he had been with the notes, both privately and on the Spy, of those whose experience he had moved. There was a certain satisfaction that his work had indeed made a difference in people’s lives.
It was also over drinks that George and Jo agreed with me that these 17 columns should have a future. And with their support, the Spy will be working with Secant Publishing of Salisbury to publish this remarkable collection, along with Jo’s brilliant illustrations, in the not too distant future.
We also will share with our readers his official obituary and any memorial service plans as we receive those.
But in the meantime, perhaps George would be pleased if I simply shared one of the lines from his first essay in this series:
“I imagined my funeral in a similar way, a little like the bedtime of my childhood. I resisted bedtime, like I resist the implications of my funeral: it’s not the right time; I have more to do. When the end of the day arrives, the knowledge that people who know and love me will tell stories about me –– and on me, too –– I find comforting.”
Dave Wheelan is the publisher of the Spy Newspapers