dad photo
Robert David Merrill
  • 74 years old
  • Date of birth: Jun 1, 1941
  • Date of passing: May 1, 2016
A memorial service and life celebration will be held at 2 PM on June 4 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno, 2672 E. Alluvial Ave, Fresno, CA 93720.

This memorial website was created in memory of my father, Robert Merrill, 74.  He was quite the father, grandfather, man, free-spirit, antagonist of those who were politically short-sighted in their views, passionate traveller, among many other things.

Memorial Tributes
This tribute was added by kevin russell on 21st October 2016

"Comments about politics and party are no doubt out of place here, even though they infest the air in this election season, and the (likely) decision to elevate Hillary, frankly, scares me to death.  But this is not about that or about me, but about Bob Merrill.  Both he and now Sy Mack are gone, and that truly saddens me.  

Sure, they were both Democrats and  likely would have voted for Madame Clinton, but what the hell?  I have nothing but the best to say about them, or about any of the profs I had then.  Both had integrity, both loved what they did, and they always had a smile and a good word to say to their students, whether A-quality or B- (anything lower would see you out the door, of course).  Bob's Geomorphology class was a FSU rite of passage, and I was lucky enough to also take Geology 1 and “Repo Depot” from him.  He was thorough, to say the least, and I fondly recall how I had to really dig into the intricacies of braided streams and alluvial fans to stand a chance in the class.  Who can't (if they had the pleasure) recall the enthusiasm Bob had for sharing the concept of the graded stream by JH Mackin?  And yes, his field trips were exhaustive but fun.

Mack was an equally fascinating fish, always flashing his smile and 2V's, and assuring us he was not a crook.  Indeed, we know he wasn't.  He was a good guy who put his time on earth to good purpose.

My wife and I were laughing about him this morning, as she is preparing to head to Fresno to attend his (Mack's) memorial. We were laughing because she mentioned that one of her first memories of the department was of standing in the hallway while Bob's toddler son ran past shouting “Sy Mack, Sy Mack, Sy Mack....” just because it was fun to say.  It seems just like yesterday, in fact, when Gus was in his cubbyhole and all the professors were either in class or office, chasing whatever was their passion.  Yes, they are/were the times of our lives, and they are quickly past.  As Conrad might add, sic transit gloria mundi.
And if Hillary wins, it will still likley be okay, although those coal miners (mining those paleo deltaic sequences) might want to keep a good eye over their shoulders."

This tribute was added by Connie Young on 6th June 2016

"The following is the tribute I gave at Bob's service. My thanks to Clary, Mary, Dave and Rad for contributing their thoughts to this piece:

I felt a little nervous, several weeks ago, as I prepared to go hand out flyers at a conference at the convention center. The convention was for conservative conservatives…and my flyers were about….climate change. I was worried about how people would react to my message.

But I steadied myself by deciding to do it in honor of Bob. He taught, by example, the importance of showing up and speaking out about things that matter. Time and time again, Bob went to meetings where many disagreed with him….and spoke persuasively and passionately on behalf of people and places who often don’t have a voice in the halls of power. If Bob could speak to City Council or the County Board of Supervisors, surely I could hand out some flyers.

I was deeply honored to be asked to speak about Bob’s environmental work, today. I took the liberty of asking some of you who have known Bob longer than I, about his work and and what made him so effective.

We all agreed that somehow Bob seemed larger than life…his energy, enthusiasm and passion could fill a room. He lived life with great joy and curiosity. He never hesitated to help…no matter what needed to be done.

He was an consummate teacher. Whether describing the wonders of Antarctica or the origins of local rock formations, Bob could make the subject interesting and understandable. As Clary Creager put it, “He laid out the meal so you could eat it”. 

As an acknowledged expert on our region’s geology and hydrology, Bob both advised and sparred with local officials about proposed developments. Dave Cehrs noted that, unlike many environmentalists, Bob spoke directly to politicians because he had the expertise and….the courage. Even in retirement, he continued to use his knowledge and connections to fight urban sprawl, protect our ground and surface water and champion the beautiful San Joaquin River.
Mary Savala and Radley Reep recalled some of the many issues in which Bob was involved: Millerton New Town, Friant Ranch, both Fresno City and County General Plans, a water treatment plant near the San Joaquin River, a water recharge basin at the county’s boot camp and, recently, the Friant Corridor Feasibility Study. Shortly before going to Stanford, he wrote an excellent op ed in the Fresno Bee, about the proposed Temperance Flat Dam. Two of his mantras were that the county should hire its own geologist, and that water is a finite resource. 

Bob was fortunate to have, in Diane, a partner whose passion for caring for the environment matched his own. When Radley organized the Friends of Lost Lake Park, he said Bob and Diane were among the first people to step forward to help him. Diane and Bob helped educate the League of Women Voters at the state level about the Valley’s unique and critical water situation. They were regulars at many Unitarian Universalist functions including the UU Town Hall Lecture series, which Bob helped coordinate. Together, they were a dynamic and formidable team.

As a relative newcomer to environmental activism, I experienced yet another side of Bob. He often let me and others know how much he appreciated our efforts. One time he was delighted because just one member of our congregation had shown up at a City Council meeting. Gary Lasky shared that he will remember Bob as a source of courage, who will inspire him to defend the causes that matter, when no one else is there to defend them. As Radley put it, Bob “was all about encouraging others”.

Which brings me back to handing out flyers at the convention center. The conference attendees were friendly or at least polite when they found out why I was there. Some challenged me, a few agreed with me and some took my flyers.

While I’m sad that I can’t tell Bob about that experience, I feel good about doing what I can to carry on where he left off. In this way, I…and I’m sure some of you….will continue to honor him."

This tribute was added by Todd McLeod on 4th June 2016

"A good man has good men. Bob lives on in his sons."

This tribute was added by Conrad Labandeira on 2nd June 2016

"As I recall, it was sometime in 1970 that I first met Dr. Robert Merrill, in a Geomorphology class (Geol 105) that was held in the Geology Department—then housed in a wing of McLane Hall that adjacent to the Kennel Bookstore. Bob had recently finished a doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin, seemed full of enthusiasm, and was ready to impart his knowledge to a class of relatively green geology majors. The Geomorphology Course must have been one of the first courses that he taught at Fresno State, as California State University–Fresno was called in those days. Bob was a superb instructor. During his class lectures Bob would explain, for example, the intricacies of braided versus meandering streams and why such differences had a profound control on the production of certain types of landscapes. However, it was the field trips that one could detect that Bob was really in his element. Bob especially liked desert environments, and would expound on how the structural geology controlled much of the larger-scale landforms seen in places such as the Mojave Desert, and how these larger-scale features were modified by processes resulting from the glacial and interglacial intervals during the Pleistocene. Included in his classroom lectures, laboratory exercises and field trips were discourses that ran the gamut from sedimentary particles, ichnofossils and sedimentary structures, the variety of bedding and stratification phenomena, environments of deposition, and the geomorphic evolution of landscapes.

Many of these discussions were reinforced by a subsequent course that I took from Bob, Sedimentary Depositional Environments, which considered fossil as well as modern environments. I distinctly recall Bob spending considerable time on the sedimentary subenvironments of the Mississippi Delta. He would illustrate and delve into the errors made by the Army Corps of Engineers, particularly involving the levee system that was installed in the lower reaches of the Mississippi River. Bob’s cautions has had considerable recent resonance with Hurricane Katrina and its effect on New Orleans and the adjacent region in Louisiana and Mississippi. It was at that time that I detected that Bob had acquired a civic activism that stressed knowledge of basic geologic processes for understanding many of the current problems in suburban planning, water use policy, energy development and other foibles of human intervention in the natural world. One of my last reminiscences of Bob was as Summer Field Camp in the White-Inyo Mountains in the later 1970’s that involved mapping the uppermost Precambrian to lowermost Cambrian strata, principally including the Poleta Formation. This area, above the beautiful panorama of Deep Spring Lake, was structurally the most confounding and exasperating mapping project for which I am sure that any CSUF geology student has had to endure. But Bob, in his inimitable way, would patiently outline the sequence of fault and folding phases that eventually produced the tortuous patterns in our drawn geologic maps.

Fast forward thirty-four years, and out of the blue, I met Bob Merrill at one of my student’s talks at the Geological Society of America 2013 annual meeting in Denver. I had not interacted with Bob during the intervening three-and-a-half decades. We discussed various aspects of our research-related lives and he inquired about my research program at the NMNH. I had the honor of introducing two of my students to Bob, somehow indelicately inserting the phrase “… a blast from the past…” in my introduction. Through subsequent email contact, Bob invited me to CSUF, and with Drs. Mara Brady and Roger LaJeunesse, we spent two field trips—one in October of 2014 and a second in November of 2015 examining the sedimentary structures and insect burrow networks of the Eocene Ione Formation, in Madera County, along the roadcut of Avenue 12, just north of the San Joaquin River. That second field trip was the last I saw of Bob, and we had hoped to work on a project involving preserved bee burrows and ant colony networks that we found in strata along the Ione outcrops. About two months ago, Bob sent me one of those specimens, a nicely preserved bee burrow in a medium-grained sandstone block that probably will be worked on by a future student in my lab. This specimen will always remind me of Bob’s dedication to his profession, the glow in his eyes following discussions of geology, and his graciousness and humility. Perhaps the specimen with the bee burrow should remain untouched, sitting on the workspace table in my lab for the foreseeable future?"

This tribute was added by John Suen on 1st June 2016

"To me, Bob was a true friend, a model mentor, and the most valuable and trusted colleague I ever had. To his students, he was an outstanding teacher and a conscientious scientist. In fact, he was so dedicated to students’ learning that he was always eager to explain the finer points to his students in great details. Hence, they affectionately coined the term “merrillization”, which means Professor Merrill would not let students go until he was completely sure that they understood the subject in totality. Bob unselfishly dedicated his life to science, education, and environmental conservation.
I am deeply saddened by the loss. However, I am sure that his students will carry on his legacy by working diligently towards a better world and environment.

P.S. Cyrus, I am out of the country. I am sorry I can't be back in time for the church memorial service."

This tribute was added by Jared Shaw on 1st June 2016

"I remember hanging out at Cyrus's house in middle school and Dr. Merrill was the only professor that I knew at the time. We had an assignment in 8th grade to write a report in our computer science class using a word processor on an Apple II (very cutting edge in '84) and were encouraged (required?) to interview someone on the topic. I chose a geological phenomenon and interviewed Cyrus's dad and can remember it to this day...he was totally cool about it and provided great explanations at an 8th grade level. Although I did not know it at the time, I'm sure that interaction impacted my own career path and I can only imagine that he had a similarly positive impact on many young minds in his time as an educator."

This tribute was added by Megan Bohigian on 31st May 2016

"Bob Merrill was a staunch and true friend to me and my family from about 1983 to the present. The last time I saw him and Diane, Bob looked well and expounded on his new masks and the water situation---never at a loss. Whatever was around the corner for him, we were sure it was an adventure, and looked forward to him sharing his tales.

My heart is with you, Diane, and Alex, and  Cyrus and Than--your dad adored you, and in all these years, whenever I saw him or chatted with him on the phone,  the first thing he'd tell me was all the news of the two of you, and your families. He was so proud of you both. My kids, Anders, Nicholas, Kelsey and Victoria Bergstrom, and my husband, Ron Bohigian, remember him with great fondness. He had the most extraordinary, irrepressible, spontaneous generosity of spirit and mind I've ever known.

One of my favorite Bob Merrill memories: It's something like 1993 and I'm teaching a creative writing camp at CSUF for kids 8-18. I run into Bob Merrill on campus, tell him what I'm doing, and the sparks of genius start flying. That afternoon, he arrives at the camp with a ton of fossils, and also photographs, that let kids see the "story" of the creatures fossilized--which they then write.

When I think of Bob Merrill, it is always in the present tense."

This tribute was added by Sy Mack on 30th May 2016

"Bob genuinely loved his work as a geologist and his enthusiasm was infectious.  He was not only a worthy colleague but a thoughtful friend.  I admired the way he used his time and professional expertise, after retirement, to continue educating himself and others, passionately advocating for conserving the environment, and promoting geologic science.  His untimely death is a great loss to his family, friends and community."

This tribute was added by Cyrus Merrill on 29th May 2016

"Feel free to leave a short tribute here, but the family would also love any stories people have to be entered in the stories section.  Thanks."


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