Merloyd Ludington Lawrence: A Tribute

Merloyd Ludington Lawrence, the esteemed book publisher and ardent environmental activist, health care advocate and animal rights crusader, died in Cambridge, Massachusetts on June 27, after a year-long battle with congestive heart disease.  She was 89.

Born in Pasadena, California on August 1, 1932, to Nicholas Saltus and Mary Lloyd (Macy) Ludington, Ms. Lawrence spent her childhood years in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.  She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe College in 1954, and was awarded a master’s degree in comparative literature from Radcliffe in 1957.  For several years following, she translated novels and children’s books from French, German and Swedish, including works by Flaubert and Balzac.

In 1965, she and her first husband Seymour (Sam) Lawrence co-founded the renowned imprint Seymour Lawrence, Inc., publishing both fiction and nonfiction.  In 1984 she created her own imprint, Merloyd Lawrence Books, producing hundreds of works of nonfiction over the next four decades with Addison-Wesley, Perseus Publishing, Da Capo Press, Basic Books and Hachette.  To those fortunate enough to work with her as a colleague, she was always supportive and frequently a mentor.  As one publishing colleague of recent years put it, “She was the kind of editor–and the kind of human being–that many of us aimed to be when we set our sights on a career in publishing.”

As an editor, Ms. Lawrence was famously nurturing and devoted, gently yet precisely steering her authors to their best work.  Esmeralda Santiago, whose classic “When I Was Puerto Rican” was published by Merloyd Lawrence Books in 1993, speaks for many authors when she says: “Merloyd has influenced contemporary literature with her courage and wide-ranging vision.  Her intelligence and sense of humor, her generosity and quiet strength brought out the best from the authors she edited.  I will always be grateful for her keen eye, for her encouragement, and for her unstinting support of my efforts.”

Child health and development were a particular passion for Ms. Lawrence, and she produced groundbreaking books such as “A Child Is Born” by Lennart  Nilsson and bestselling titles by Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Stanley Greenspan, D.W. Winnicott and John Holt.  In women’s studies she founded the Radcliffe Biography Series, which included Joseph Lash on Helen Keller; Paula Blanchard on Margaret Fuller and Sarah Orne Jewett; Vicki Goldberg on Margaret Bourke-White; John Malcolm Brinnin on Gertrude Stein; Robert Coles on Dorothy Day, Simone Weil and Anna Freud; Sissela Bok on Alva Myrdal; and Georgie Anne Geyer’s indelible autobiography, “Buying The Night Flight”. 

Her wide ranging book interests were reflected in the Pulitzer-Prize winning “Children of Crisis” series by Robert and Jane Hallowell Coles, Ellen J. Langer’s “Mindfulness, and “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book”, as well as titles by Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot, Kenneth R. Pelletier, Sandra Steingraber, Arthur Young and Dr. Harold J. Bursztajn.  By no means least, she helped shape the global discourse on animal rights and wilderness conservation with seminal books by Steven Wise and John Hanson Mitchell.

Ms. Lawrence served as trustee, director or advisor on many boards throughout her life, including Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Milton Academy.  A committed environmental and animal rights advocate, she served with the World Land Trust, New England Forestry Foundation, Mass Audubon, Woods Hole Research Center, Northeast Wilderness Trust, Nonhuman Rights Project, Island Press, Sanctuary and Orion magazines. She was a well-loved member of the Tavern Club in Boston for many years. 

She enjoyed spending late summers at Little Annapolis Lake in Nova Scotia with her children and grandchildren and second husband of 37 years, Harvard research physicist John Martin Myers. 

In addition to her husband, Ms. Lawrence is survived by her brother Nicholas Ludington II, and his wife Cassandra and sons Nick and Max; her husband’s children Christopher, Anne and Sam; her daughter Macy Lawrence Ratliff, son-in-law John Wilson Ratliff and their daughters Katherine Eliza Huber and husband Erik, and Hilary Lloyd Ratliff and her partner Mads; her son Nicholas Lawrence and his son Henry Malcolm Lloyd Lawrence; and three granddogs: Maya, Emma and Weasley.

Ms. Lawrence’s passion for children, nature, animals, literature, science, and the greater good, calls us still, in Flaubert’s words, “to feel what is sublime and to cherish what is beautiful”.  She especially loved Rilke’s “Ninth Duino Elegy” and the lines “…truly being here is so much; because everything here / apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way / keeps calling to us.  Us, the most fleeting of all.”