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In Memoriam: Donald C. Mell Jr.

Photo by Ambre Alexander

Campus remembers longtime English professor, head of UD Press

Donald C. Mell Jr., a member of the University of Delaware English faculty for 47 years and longtime chairperson of the Board of Editors of the University of Delaware Press, died on Nov. 9, 2019, surrounded by his family, after a short illness.

Dr. Mell had a long and distinguished career at the University of Delaware, joining the faculty of the Department of English in 1968 and retiring in 2017. From 1999-2016, he also chaired the Board of Editors of the University of Delaware Press, which received numerous awards under his leadership.

In 2012, Dr. Mell was honored at the East-Central American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies Conference. A founding member of that society, he was recognized for his many contributions to 18th century studies and his scholarly work.

He was the author of the books A Poetics of Augustan Elegy: Studies of Poems by Dryden, Pope, Prior, Swift, Gray, and Johnson and English Poetry, 1660-1800: A Guide to Information Sources, as well as editor or coeditor of other books and the author of numerous articles and reviews.  

‘His ongoing influence’

Dr. Mell is remembered on the campus for his scholarship, his commitment and his optimistic demeanor.

English Department Publicity Photos
Donald C. Mell Jr. in a 2010 photo

For John Ernest, the Judge Hugh M. Morris Professor and chair of the Department of English, Dr. Mell was “an important member of our community, an inspiration to so many, and a model scholar and teacher. He will be greatly missed, and his ongoing influence and example will continue to make us a better community.”

Susan Brynteson, May Morris Librarian Emerita, recalled Dr. Mell as a “delightful and gracious” man devoted to learning and literature. “He, as the longtime and highly respected chairperson of the Board of Editors of the University of Delaware Press, led the Press with vision and collegiality, producing an outstanding roster of publications with a notable national reputation,” she said. “His humor and humility in these endeavors were noteworthy. I valued his friendship as we worked together on the Press and, especially in a changing publishing environment, on the various management decisions that needed to be made about it along the way.

“Members of the Board of Editors along with other national experts regularly read and evaluate submitted manuscripts,” Brynteson continued. “As the old saying goes, ‘many are called but few are chosen’ resulting in Don sending numerous rejection and ‘revise and resubmit’ letters and explanations, as well as acceptances.  Don always had with him a packed attaché case filled with various prospective manuscripts which he assiduously read.  I sometimes wondered if, in many cases, the various authors who received Don’s eloquent and generous letters realized their manuscript was being rejected.  Don was totally committed to the Press and was highly respected in the Association of University Presses and the Modern Language Association (MLA). Don’s warm and optimistic demeanor, accompanied with his commitment to scholarly research and publishing along with the life of the mind, will be much missed.”

A gentleman and a scholar

The following memorial was prepared by Elizabeth Mell, Dr. Mell’s daughter:

Dr. Donald C. Mell Jr. died on Nov. 9, 2019, in Wilmington, Delaware, surrounded by his family, following a short illness.

A professor of English literature at the University of Delaware for 47 years, Dr. Mell was a dedicated teacher who loved lively discourse and the exchange of ideas. He was the truest form of a gentleman and a scholar.

Dr. Mell’s accomplishments were many, but it was his character, gentleness and engaging personality that touched everyone he encountered. His unassuming demeanor, respect for others and genuine delight in the collective pursuit of knowledge made him a singular individual.

He was born on May 20, 1931, in Akron, Ohio, to Donald Charles and Josephine Seiberling Mell. As a child, he attended Old Trail School and then Western Reserve Academy, graduating in 1949.

He attended Yale University, where he earned his B.A. in 1953. Upon graduation, he served his country in Korea as an Army private first class from 1953-55.

He returned to Yale to earn an M.A.T. in 1956, and M.A. in 1959. He was then accepted to the University of Pennsylvania, where he completed his Ph.D. in 1961.

It was during his undergraduate years at Yale when he developed his love of music, especially the organ, studying under the prolific German composer Paul Hindemith. For a fleeting moment, he entertained the idea of a career in music, and even performed once with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony.

Also, at Yale Dr. Mell was an accomplished student-athlete, playing varsity soccer and was recognized with the All-Ivy Postseason Award. His “soccer buddies” were an important part of his life, and he remained close to his college teammates for decades to come.

Dr. Mell loved spending summers on Cape Cod, having learned to sail as a young man at the Cape Cod Sea Camps (Monomoy 1945-46).

Before moving to Delaware, he taught English at Middlebury College (1965-68) and Rutgers University (1961-65).

Arriving on campus at Delaware in the fall of 1968, Dr. Mell’s gentle nature quickly endeared him to faculty, staff and students, alike. At his core, he was warm, kind and humble. He loved academia, and at UD he thrived.

Dr. Mell briefly went back into government service at the National Endowment for the Humanities as a program officer in the Division of Research Programs during1993-94.

His role as chairperson of the University of Delaware Press Board of Editors was perhaps the most fulfilling of all his intellectual pursuits. He cherished the collaboration with board members and press staff.

Dr. Mell regularly and enthusiastically supported the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and the Modern Language Association throughout his career. Participating in academic conferences was a thrill for him, and he made lifelong friends across the country with his understated temperament and good humor.

Dr. Mell wrote two books, edited four others and published 15 articles and 28 reviews. His distinctions also include several fellowships, literary prizes, and grants. He was a member of the Cosmos Club and the Folger Library in Washington, D.C., and the Yale Club of New York City,

A memorial service to celebrate his life will take place at Christ Church Christiana Hundred at 11 a.m., Friday, Nov. 22.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Katherine Lyon Mell; his son Donald C. Mell III of Wilmington (Jeanne); and his daughter Elizabeth (AS ’89) of Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. He was preceded in death by his brothers Marvin M. and Francis S. “Skip” Mell.

In lieu of flowers, the Mell family requests that donations in Dr. Mell’s memory be given to the Future Fund of the East Central American Society for 18th Century Studies (EC/ASECS), which will provide scholarship opportunities to graduate students. Payments can be made online with the Future Fund Donate button at: http://www.ec-asecs.org or by check to Future Fund c/o Dr. Staffel, P.O. Box 52, Bethany WV, 26032.

Condolences may be left online.

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