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Remembering Merloyd Ludington

With sorrow, and with profound gratitude for her many contributions, the Northeast Wilderness Trust community notes the passing of Merloyd Ludington into the wilderness of eternity on June 27.

A cofounder of the Wilderness Trust in 2002, Merloyd served on the board for 17 years before being elevated to a role as trustee emeritus. Her keen intellect, and strong opinions articulated with the most diplomatic of demeanors, were key organizational assets during NEWT’s early growth and development.

A highly respected editor and publisher in her professional life, Merloyd’s philanthropic and volunteer service were similarly outstanding. In addition to her longstanding board role at NEWT, she served also as a board member or trustee of various nonprofits including Massachusetts Audubon Society, New England Forestry Foundation, Woods Hole Research Center, Island Press, and Milton Academy. Her commitment to making the world a more ecologically vibrant and socially just place was reflected in Merloyd’s generous support of organizations working to protect wild nature, support women’s rights and reproductive health, and address the climate emergency. She will be deeply missed.


Annie Faulkner, Northeast Wilderness Trust cofounder and emeritus board member

Our friend Merloyd was a gem of a human being. Her involvement with Northeast Wilderness Trust from the very beginning was a tremendous gift to all of us. With other cofounders mostly 30- and 40-somethings, Merloyd brought experience, wisdom, and deep connections to the New England conservation community. She was able to bridge the worlds of forestry and wilderness, bringing her critical mind and wide-ranging interests to recognize the intersections among environmental problems: biodiversity, climate, population, animal rights, human welfare, overconsumption — all interrelated.

In her board service, Merloyd was also astute about finances, savvy about development, and a fantastic editor. She took NEWT’s commitments to land and to our donors very seriously, ensuring we built strong foundations for longevity and durability. Every new fundraising proposal or expensive project had to pass the strictest financial review from Merloyd. (This was a great relief to me, feeling the same way as she in these matters but grateful for her seniority in making the case.)

The image of old Boston, often appearing in layers of dark wool, Merloyd was fun, with a dry wit, and modest, signing emails with a lone, lower case, “m.” She was quick to compliment others in their work, and she practiced what some preach about lower impact lifestyles. Many a time I met her at the bus station in Concord, NH, to drive her the rest of the way to a board meeting, and later brought her back to the station in time for her return to Boston.

It’s apt to think of Merloyd as Northeast Wilderness Trust’s “mother tree.” With her tallest branches and leaves catching the bright sun and sensing, on the wind, threats and opportunities coming our way, and with her roots deep in the humus and mycorrhizal layers of conservation history and finance and culture, her many gifts helped to bring forth what we recognize now as a thriving, young adult organization. Just as older trees continue to give even after they return to the forest floor, Merloyd’s gifts continue to nurture Northeast Wilderness Trust, living on in her work for the wild. I will be forever grateful for my time knowing and working with Merloyd.

Jim Dumont, former Northeast Wilderness Trust board member

The NEWT Board, when I joined it and throughout my tenure, was peopled with lots of fascinating characters but none as wise, joyful and inspirational as Merloyd. A meeting without Merloyd was like a night without the moon and stars.

We spent as much time talking with each other outside of Board meetings as we did during meetings, and usually not about NEWT business. After we left the Board, our conversations continued. I would ask her what book she was working on and she would tell me and then send me the latest fascinating, impeccably researched, beautifully crafted book that she had brought to life. If you have the slightest interest in how persevering, albeit flawed individuals can make this a better world and you haven’t read Steven Wise’s “Though the Heavens May Fall” and Justin Martin’s “Genius of Place,” don’t do anything else in your life until you have read these gems.

I will never forget one of our telephone conversations. Michael Brown, of Ferguson, Missouri, an unarmed black teenager, had been shot to death by white police officer Darren Wilson. Merloyd and I and much of the nation were filled with outrage over the history of racist brutality and oppression in Ferguson that we were learning about. A grand jury had been convened to consider whether to charge Wilson with murder. Merloyd told me she was afraid. I was stunned by what she was afraid of.  So many people were crying out for Wilson’s conviction, she said, that she was afraid that if Wilson were to be indicted, it would be impossible for him to receive a fair trial. That was Merloyd. Always take the high road.

I was not surprised to learn she had passed. She was as scrupulous about returning calls and emails as she was about English usage. She had not answered my emails, so I called her and left her a voicemail. She did not call back. Then Jon Leibowitz called with the sad news.

Her passing must leave an enormous gaping hole in the lives of everyone in her family.  I send them my deepest condolences. I feel like my own personal Gandalf has left us.

Keith Ross, Northeast Wilderness Trust cofounder

Merloyd was one of the most interesting people I was fortunate to have the pleasure of calling my friend. I first met her when we were both Board members for the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF). She and her good friend Bayard Henry would travel with me sometimes to various locations in New England for Board meetings. The conversations were always wide ranging and memorable since Bayard and Merloyd had differing views on land stewardship but always respected each other’s point of view.

I soon became an employee of NEFF as the Director of Land Protection. One of the projects involved the organizations first opportunity to purchase with grant funding a large block of land portions of which had to be managed for wilderness. This was a landmark decision by an organization founded on supporting sustainable forest management where timber harvesting was a key tool. Merloyd joined me in convincing the Board to accept the funding to purchase the land with the concept that “How can NEFF be a credible advocate for forest management when we do not own any land where the forest is allowed to grow on its own without manipulation to compare the two forms? If not, we are just making it up that forest management is best!” Not only was the funding accepted and the land purchased, but Bayard Henry also then donated land to double the size of the Hersey Mountain Forest in New Hampshire. That project occurred during a time of growing interest in wilderness management of forest lands and eventually resulted in Merloyd and I working with the source of the Hersey Mountain funding, Nancy Smith to create the Northeast Wilderness Trust. At that time none of the major conservation organizations would willingly support wilderness, but so much has changed since then because of the work NEWT has done and continues to do into the future.

Thank you Merloyd and all of NEWT’s past and current Board members and staff.