April 1, 2004
Leffler Takes His Leave
After twenty-three remarkable years of writing about and reflecting on science and the Chesapeake Bay, Merrill Leffler retired from his post as writer and editor for the Maryland Sea Grant College on April 1, 2004.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in North Carolina, where his family had moved during his preteen years, Leffler graduated from the North Carolina State University with a degree in physics. One of his first jobs was with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), where he became a vehicle manager, in charge of launching rockets for atmospheric and meteorological research.
Leffler early on found himself drawn to words and literature, however, and as columnist Henry Allen wrote in a Washington Post feature, Leffler turned away from his aeronautical career to pursue the language and literature that he loved. Leffler went on to graduate school in English literature at the University of Maryland and then at England's Oxford University. He taught literature at the University of Maryland, the U.S. Naval Academy, and at literary workshops here and abroad.
In addition to his own writing and teaching, Leffler has long encouraged and promoted the efforts of others. Through his own company, Dryad Press, he has published the work of numerous poets and writers, with a special emphasis on Holocaust literature. One collection of Israeli poems on war and peace, entitled After the First Rain, carries a preface by former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who spoke fondly of the work at the book's inaugural reading in Washington, D.C.
For those interested in the Chesapeake Bay, Leffler is best known for his in-depth articles on marine science and affairs. For many years he has followed scientific studies of the Bay ecosystem and its fisheries, including the oyster industry - from the resurgence of parasitic disease in the mid-1980s to heated debates over the introduction of non-native oyster species, such as Crassostrea gigas and, currently, Crassostrea ariakensis.
Leffler's work is informed by deep understanding, the result not only of numerous interviews with researchers throughout the region and beyond, but also of painstaking reading of scientific journal articles, reports and research notes. At Maryland Sea Grant Leffler found a place where he could join his interest in science and his passion for writing. "When I saw the advertisement in the Post [in 1981]," Leffler said, "I said, 'This is the job I want.'"
Many would agree that it was a happy confluence. With issues facing the Chesapeake growing increasingly complex, and with many clamoring for over-simplified solutions, Leffler's careful and balanced analysis of issues such as oyster aquaculture, fisheries management and contaminants in the Chesapeake helped to provide measured and sophisticated background and up-to-date information for a broad, interested audience. He also helped to explain the Bay's intricate physical and biological dynamics, the forces that drive its rich food webs and fabled productivity.
Leffler may be retiring from the nine-to-five life, but he'll be just as busy. This summer he will present lectures on culture, literature and sense of place in Great Britain, and then will return to the things he loves most — his family, including two young granddaughters, and his literary work. A farewell gathering held at the end of March in College Park served as testimony to the community's fondness and regard for him. "When I came to Sea Grant I found people who care about the same things I do," he said. He also found a community of scholars and others who came to appreciate his unflagging curiosity, intelligence and warmth.
Selected Articles and Links
* Managing Fisheries for the Future
* Does the Bay Need a New Oyster?
* Restoring Bay Grasses to the Chesapeake: A Long Way Back
* Dryad Press