Marilyn Elizabeth Wilkey Merritt, PhD, passed away February 4, 2021 in Arlington, VA, after a brief illness. Marilyn was a devoted partner to Gary, her husband of 60 years; a selfless mother to her children Brienne (Andy) and Seth (Michelle) a loving “Mere-Mom” to Macy, Cole, Wyatt, Maureen and Henry; a beloved sister to Debbie (Larry), Cathy (Rick), Heather (Rick), Bill (Laurie); a kind and encouraging Aunt to many nieces and nephews. She was a faithful friend and correspondent and touched the lives of many, including students and neighbors whose lives she brightened with genuine care and sparkling conversation.
Born on Winter Solstice, 1941, Marilyn was raised in South-East Missouri, and went on to travel the world with her family, including living and working in India, Kenya, Niger and Senegal, and working in other countries too. Although frugal, cautious and analytical, she thrilled to the call of adventure and romance.
She earned a PhD in Linguistic Anthropology in 1976 — proud student of Henry Hoenigsvald, Dell Hymes and Erving Goffman at Univ. of Pennsylvania. Her work has been cited often in the fields of discourse analysis and education, especially articles on “service encounters” and on describing the many contexts and uses of the term “OK” in American English. She taught at The George Washington University, Georgetown University, Catholic University, and Univ. of Maryland. She served as a docent at numerous museums, including the DACOR Bacon House, and the National Museum of Kenya. She leaves behind a legacy of many students who have gone on to their own successful careers in academia and other fields. She was a vigorous participant in professional societies, including AAAS, American Anthropology Association, Center for Applied Linguistics. Marilyn relished conference and symposium gatherings, meeting new and old friends, and sparking ideas.
Education was a passion, and not just for her own children. Equality of access was important — one of her refrains was “every child is gifted”. Marilyn truly loved language in all its forms, from poetry to newspaper comics to the innocent words of children. She acquired skills in French, German, Hindustani, Swahili, and Wolof. She wrote and recited many poems at poetry gatherings, and loved to encourage others by buying and subscribing to poetry publications, and was proud of publishing a small book of poems with her sister Cathy.
She reveled in the beauties of nature, catching sunrises, picking wildflowers for the table, taking children on a hike in the woods. She invariably found museums and gardens wherever she traveled, and was known occasionally to visit a gift shop on the way out. She delighted in handcrafts and supported the work of artisans and artists around the world. Creativity was a spiritual practice for her – she journaled, sketched, painted the beauty she saw and felt. She believed in the power of art to heal, to lift us out of ourselves, and to unite us.
Her memory was prodigious, for numbers, for birthdays, and anniversaries of loved ones. Marilyn would eagerly invite any who wish to join us in contributing to a worthy cause of choice, in celebrating your personal memories of her. Gary, Brie, and Seth are planning a memorial for her later this Spring to celebrate her life with colleagues, neighbors, and friends. Be Safe, All!
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