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Merritt Linn ’58

Doctor, author, and philanthropist, Merritt was born in Chicago to Theodore and Dina Linn. When Merritt was nine the family moved to Salem, Oregon, where the family became influential in the city’s Jewish community.

After graduating from Reed he got his MD from Oregon Health & Science University. Merritt had a 40-year ophthalmology practice in Portland, which was especially dedicated to the study of diabetes and its impact on vision.

While he took great pride in his medical practice, his true passions were community service, education, the arts, and family. He helped establish Portland’s Florence Melton Adult Mini-School for adult Jewish education and the Rabbi Joshua Stampfer Community Enrichment Award, which acknowledges service in the greater Portland community.

In 1982, Merritt wrote A Book of Songs, the story of a boy living in a concentration camp that may or may not be situated in Europe during the Holocaust. The New York Times Book Review called it “a stark, ghastly and powerful first novel about spiritual survival in a concentration camp… Mr. Linn’s novel is one I would not have wanted to miss.”

The haunting allegory conveyed the importance of family, art, and humanity in the face of the harshest realities and won a Pacific Northwest Bookseller Award. To gain inspiration while writing the book, Merritt returned to the Reed library and sat in his old chair every night for a month.

“That would put me in the mood so my imagination could go to work,” he said.  “Going [back] to Reed was like walking through a museum with many wonderful things. In retrospect I’m realizing just what value that had. A whole world was opened to me, and going back to it helped me to be a writer.”

Merritt married Natalie Fay Newman in 1965, and they had two children, Jodi Linn Coleman and Keith I. Linn. In 1995, he met Susan Korey, and they enjoyed a 20-year relationship. He often referred to Susan as his co-pilot. Shortly before he died, his children asked him for words of guidance for his three beloved grandchildren. Merritt emphasized the importance of self-determination, reciprocity, and treating all people as if you and they were part of the same world.

He is survived by Susan, his children, son-in-law Kenneth Coleman; daughter-in-law Lisa Ludwig; grandchildren, Casey and Jane Coleman and Walter Linn; sister and brother-in-law Karen and Richard Solomon; and sister and brother-in-law Nikki and Stuart Director.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2016

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