ForeverMissed
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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.

June 9, 2017
June 9, 2017
Today, I called all my members of Congress to urge them to work together to fight climate change.
I'll always be indebted to Bob for teaching me to not be a bystander and to speak up for our beautiful Earth.
October 21, 2016
October 21, 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.
June 6, 2016
June 6, 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.
June 4, 2016
June 4, 2016
A good man has good men. Bob lives on in his sons.
June 2, 2016
June 2, 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?
June 1, 2016
June 1, 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.
June 1, 2016
June 1, 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.
May 31, 2016
May 31, 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.
May 30, 2016
May 30, 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.
May 29, 2016
May 29, 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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Recent Tributes
June 9, 2017
June 9, 2017
Today, I called all my members of Congress to urge them to work together to fight climate change.
I'll always be indebted to Bob for teaching me to not be a bystander and to speak up for our beautiful Earth.
October 21, 2016
October 21, 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.
June 6, 2016
June 6, 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.
Recent stories

Time and the River Flowing

June 5

Over the past few months my geologist brother, Steve, and I have spent considerable time together owing to the death of an older brother, and our attempts to unravel his poorly organized affairs.  We also both attended the May 2022 Nevada geologic symposium in Reno, where I was pleased to see some old FSU buddies, and we could catch up on some news. Since we’re both mostly retired now, we don’t circulate that much anymore, but we’re both still geologists.

And since I began roughing out this addendum but did not post it, we’ve learned that our friend, Tim Percival, another FSU geologist who did well as an explorationist, has also crossed the Shadow Line.  Perhaps that’s a gentle reminder to do and say what you can (and ought to) while you still can.

Steve and I graduated out of the Fresno geology department within a few years of each other, and over the years we’ve had many fond discussions of our days there.  Recently, we again drove down the east side of the Sierras to see our younger brother in Taft, which took us through all that prime field trip and thesis-area terrain.  Bob Merrill’s glacial elements and Blackerby’s cinder cones, domes, lavas, and tuffs of the Coso field were the more subtle backdrops to all that granite and the magnificent range front, but our own undercurrent was a journey in remembering how central Fresno and all the people we interacted with were to how our lives have played out.

Steve’s MA thesis was a study of the rocks around Mt. Dana, and my spouse and I got to know each other because we were in the same field party when 108 was held on the Log Cabin roof pendant in the mid 70’s.Steve still regularly hikes the high country, and Kim and I honeymooned at Virginia Creek.  She later worked for the Bureau of Mines in the same area.  The Sierra escarpment is incorporated into our DNA.

I bring up all this as preface to me mentioning to Steve that I’d recently received another memorial date note regarding Bob Merrill’s passing.  Every year we’re reminded of the anniversary (they seem to come around more quickly these days), and some years new material has been added.  I usually just look, and reflect, then go on; what else can we do until we, too, drop off?

The conversation with Steve, however, prompted me to comb my memory for details, and a few items were recalled that might be of interest to those who were associated with and fondly remember Dr. Merrill.

Steve enrolled in Merrill’s Geomorphology class in Spring of 1971 (yes, that long ago) while he was also finishing up an industrial arts degree, and that class clearly figured in his decision to switch majors.  By then he and I were also making trips into the back country learning to climb and backpack, and, of course, his enthusiasm for this new discipline of geology was contagious.  I was a declared math major in junior college (for what it was worth), but I wasn’t that bright or suited and was open to a change.

Steve decided to take me by the FSU geology department that summer (I’m going to say in August), and Bob happened to be in his office.  He was shockingly young, with shaggy brown hair, sporting a white cotton cowboy shirt, and also wearing a big smile of greeting and bright, friendly eyes.  He persuaded me that geology was a great field to go into, but what I mostly remember him talking about was University of Texas football and the Wishbone offense.  His enthusiasm was that of a novitiate graduate student selling, without trying to, how joyful the pursuit of geologic understanding can be, rather than a professor seeking headcount for his classes.

Long and short, I took four classes from Bob while at Fresno, and every one taught me something that has stayed with me.  They were Geology 1 and, naturally, Geomorphology, but Map Interpretation and Depositional Systems, as a grad, were the ones that showed Bob in true light.  He LOVED showing students what they could decipher from maps, and learning to comprehend how sediment, water and gradient were all inter-related was one of those 2 or 3 Eureka moments when you begin to understand the beauty and wonder of natural systems.

Dr. M is the principal focus of this remembrance, but we can’t think of him and those times without also fondly recalling all the others who made our education so valuable.  All of those professors (Mack, Blackerby, Bereskin, Avent, Lang, Warren N., Stan, and Cserna, and that other Professor of Sorts, Gus) were bright enough and had enough “jazz” and ability to have made a splash at more renowned (publish-oriented) schools, or more money in industry, but we thank them for their dedication to teaching.  Anyone can collect a paycheck or co-author a paper on the latest climate change or snowball-earth lollapalooza, but not EVERYONE can teach effectively. We know we won the lottery in that regard and benefited from a geology department that prized field study.

The last time I recall seeing Bob was, oddly, at Gus’ field memorial gathering, at Westgard Pass.  I don’t believe Steve made it to that one, but Dr. Blackerby was present, and I especially recollect how happy Bob Merrill was to see the three of us (including Kim and our son, John) when we arrived in camp from central Nevada.Of course, Bob was older, although I don’t think retired yet, but the eyes were still bright and the smile just as wide.  He also had that same endearing throat-clearing and slight stutter to his voice, but that only reminded you that his brain and speech were fully engaged.  Bob rightly considered Steve (I suspect doctors Bereskin and Avent would have concurred) one of the half-dozen exceptionally gifted geologists to pass through the department in their day, but he was always happy to see anyone that was a member of this CSUF geology fraternity.  It was a fun, if sad occasion.

What, someone may well ask, does the title of this remembrance have to do with Bob Merrill?  The reference may seem lame or obscure, but I recall seeing the Sierra Club poster of that title serving as the back of my brother’s bookcase in his Clovis trailer +50 years ago.  I think it actually sums up my engagement with this period in our life, although it takes a very little explaining.

The photo shows the famous Grand Canyon section as carved by the Colorado, with the loops of the river crawling across the view and captured in a moment of its rapid yet (to us) unimaginably ponderous cutting.  Anyone looking for deeper context or “meaning” will quickly relate our short human lives to a twig or leaf floating on the stream, quickly entering and leaving the scene. Bob has floated out of view, and we, too, will follow, soon or latter, but all too soon. The scene, in contrast, looks timeless and unchanging, but we (as Bob knew) know better.

June 16, 2016

Bob Merrill came to the Fresno State Geology Department as I was finishing my degree. My wife Karen and I took three classes from Bob; Geomorphology, Map Interpretation, and Summer Field. In the spring of 1973, Bob wanted to attend a GSA Convention in Portland and asked if any of us wanted to join him. I was the only one interested, so we took Bob's VW van to Portland and since we were both on a budget I found a place for us to stay in a delivery truck parked at my brother-in-law's parent's filbert orchard.

It was my first geology convention and we managed to attend a lot of talks, none of which I remember. What I do remember is that we went to dinner with a couple of professors from San Diego State University. One of them, Pat Abbott, was Bob's classmate at the University of Texas.

I must have made a good impression on Pat, because early that summer, I got a call from San Diego State asking me if I was interested in working in Baja California. I already had a job at Leaky Acres, but my bosses there said I should take the job in Baja. All I had to do was find my replacement and John Farrell happily took my place. I got an MS at San Diego State and worked in Denver for 11 years in oil and gas exploration.

When the oil business went bust in 1986, I decided to return to Fresno and become a high school teacher. I entered the credential program at Fresno State and when I dropped by the Geology Department, Bob suggested I apply for a part time lecturer position with the department. I did and I taught Geology 1 and/or 2 while I was getting my credential.

During the past 30 or so years, we have run into Bob now and then, at Geology Department reunions and at the UU Church and he never changed. His concern for the environment and his chosen social causes never faltered. We were shocked to here of Bob's passing and figured he would be rattling people's cages into his 90's.

 

60 Ways to Hide Your Eggplant

May 31, 2016

60 Ways to Hide Your Eggplant was the title Bob suggested, circa 1985, when he came up with the idea that since we were each parents of highly...shall we say...discerning children, we should write a cook book that would demonstrate how vegetables' identities could be masked so that children would eat them. 

He was hilarious and constantly inventive. Great parent, great friend.


 

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