We are heartbroken to report the death from cancer May 31 of our colleague and friend, Merrell Noden ’78, a longtime PAW contributor. For about two decades, Merrell wrote the stories of some of Princeton’s most captivating people and programs, always with eloquence and heart.
You could tell a lot about Merrell from his articles. He was as curious as they come, happily taking on any topic we could throw at him — from word puzzles to Vietnam to mathematics geniuses. He loved running and literature and brought them together, once writing a piece for Sports Illustrated about Charles Dickens’ obsession with race-walking. He was full of good will, gratitude, and wonder, peppering his drafts with exclamation points that sometimes were deleted during editing, lest all that enthusiasm boil over.
About Professor Simon Morrison *97’s research on the composer Sergei Prokofiev, Merrell wrote: “Lucky Prokofiev! Few geniuses have had the good fortune to be served by someone as diligent and honest as Morrison.” In another piece, Merrell recalled the famous math-department teas: “What teas those must have been! It wasn’t just professors and grad students who came, but undergrads, visiting fellows, and brainiacs from the Institute.” He wrote about the digitization of books, noting that some people were questioning why we needed a bricks-and-mortar library at all. Merrell needed two exclamation points to comment on that prospect. “Aaaaarrhh!!” he wrote. “If, like me, you recall the libraries of your childhood as magical places, this comes close to sacrilege. Those libraries were warm and safe; you could spend entire afternoons opening books onto worlds you never knew existed, with the only threat being the sharp tongues of zealous librarians.”
As I re-read his emails and stories to write this note, I kept smiling.
Over the last few years, as Merrell endured the energy-sapping ups and downs of cancer treatment and it became harder for him to get around, he continued to take on PAW articles, saying they helped him feel connected to the campus and people he cared about. He submitted two pieces, well done as always, for our June 3 issue, then followed up with a warm note about the interesting assignments. His wife, Eva Mantell, said later that Merrell was quite ill when he was working on the last piece but cared deeply about completing it.
There is no number of exclamation points that can capture how much Merrell will be missed.
READ MORE: A selection of Merrell’s stories for PAW Continue reading