Jo Merrill, the wife of the late Spy columnist George Merrill, felt she had already been tested in life. Losing her first husband to cancer when their children were only two and three years old, she had to face the loss of a spouse at the tragically early age of twenty-eight.
Jo passed that first test by using her Emory University degree to catapult into an unanticipated career as a psychiatric social worker to raise those children. But that career path also put her into daily contact with a colleague at a pastoral counseling center in Baltimore who was the most Rev. George Merrill.
They also became partners as they eventually moved to the Eastern Shore in the 1980s. Jo and George immediately started to support each other’s philanthropic interests, such as Talbot Hospice and Habitat for Humanity but also became cheerleaders for Jo’s passion for art and George’s writing and photography as they gracefully entered retirement years.
Those special bonds of commitment were essential as George began writing for the Spy seven years ago. The couple merged into editor and writer as they worked through 353 Sunday essays for our small regional newspapers.
But the real test for the writer (and Jo’s second in life) was when George Merrill was diagnosed with stage 4 leukemia in the summer of 2021.
Faced with a terminal case of cancer, with less than a year of life expectancy for most victims, George made the brave decision to continue writing his Spy column with the specific goal of sharing the unique blessings that come with a death sentence such as his. With Jo acting as editor, George completed twenty-four essays, and the last one was sent to me the day before he died on Easter of this year.
Beyond the great satisfaction George and Jo felt about the size of his audience (which in the last month attracted more than 10,000 readers from our small regional footprint, each column generated a remarkable number of reader-generated comments that authenticated how profoundly moved his audience was his shared experience.
The other thing that gave George profound gratitude was the decision by the couple to make this remarkable portfolio, with the addition of Jo’s illustrations into a printed book. The goal from the getgo was to preserve George’s work after the all too short shelf-life of the Spy’s website so it could be shared with others; it was also looked upon as a vital therapeutic project for both of them as he faced his mortality while she once again would experience the loss of a spouse.
That book was just released last week.
The Spy sat down with Jo just before Thanksgiving to discuss this remarkable journal.
Dave Wheelan is the publisher and executive editor of the Spy Newspapers.
This video is approximately minutes in length. To purchase your copy online please go here.