In Memoriam, John Mersereau, Jr, 1925-2009

Michael Makin mlmakin at UMICH.EDU
Sat Feb 7 17:32:50 UTC 2009

It is with deepest regret that the Department of Slavic Languages and 
Literatures of the University of Michigan announces the death of John 
Mersereau, Jr, a beloved colleague and former Chair of the Department.

Below are the words of the current Chair, Professor Herb Eagle, who 
announced the sad news to the Department:

"I write with a heavy heart to tell you that our dear friend and former leader, 
John Mersereau, Jr. has passed away.

When last we all saw him, at our Departmental party in the fall, he was his 
usual cheerful, witty and engaging self.  He lived his life to the fullest to the 
very end.  He was not only an eminent scholar, among the most prominent 
experts on Lermontov and on Russian Romanticism and the author of five 
books and many articles, but also an inspiring undergraduate teacher and an 
influential mentor to generations of graduate students at Michigan.  He was 
the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972.

He led the Department as its chair from 1961 to 1971, the decade in which it 
rose to prominence among graduate departments of Slavic Languages and 
Literatures in this country, in no small measure as a result of his wise 
leadership.  From 1977 to 1985 he was Director of the Residential College and 
helped build that experimental liberal arts college into the excellent four-year 
undergraduate college within the University that it is today.  Before retiring 
from regular teaching, he led our Slavic Department again from 1986 to 1989.  
As a Professor Emeritus he taught from time to time in the 1990s and he 
continued his research and writing up until the present.  My last conversation 
with him was, in part, about his latest book manuscript on 19th century 
Russian literature.

John was a delightful and charming person with many interests beyond 
academia.  He grew up in a rural area in the Santa Cruz mountains of California 
and never lost his love of nature.  He was a farmer and he and his wife Nanine 
(“Bimi”) bred and raced horses, another subject of our last conversation.  
While Director of the Residential College, John learned to fly planes and not 
only bought his own small plane, but built a runway for it on his farm.  He 
enjoyed gourmet cooking and with friends opened the first authentic French 
restaurant in Ann Arbor in 1965.  

Most of all, he was an outgoing, warm and generous person who always 
sought to help his colleagues in the Department (and later in the Residential 
College) and his students.  I consider myself especially fortunate to have been 
both his student and his colleague.
Sometime later this year, I hope and expect that the Slavic Department and 
the Residential College will hold a gathering to honor John’s memory and share 
our stories about him."

As Herb's words emphasize, John was held in the highest esteem by many 
generations of students, and by all those who worked with him and under his 
leadership.  His loss is deeply felt by all who were privileged to know him.

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