It was a beautiful setting in a large room on the top floor of the Vaughn Center at the University of Tampa. Twenty-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows along two walls provided sweeping views of the surrounding area … as much as you could see given the rainy weather, which was torrential at times.
People mingled from 5:00 to 6:00, munching on hors d’oeuvres while Liz Hollister and John Minor played guitar and sang songs in the background. A slide show of Merl tidbits played in a continuous loop on a large screen at the front of the hall. From 7:00 until 9:00, a fittingly eclectic mix of friends shared reminiscences about Merl. There were many laughs and a few tears.
Robert Miles, an international keynote speaker, served as master of ceremonies. Six others followed: Al Scudieri, a former FBI special agent; Jeffrey Walters, whose wife Merl had made a special puzzle for; Vic Fleming, a district judge and crossword constructor; Patrick Creadon, the director of Wordplay; myself, with a notebook filled with 400 writings collected from the crossword community; and Bill Duryea, an editor at politico.com. Marie Haley finished things up with some poignant thoughts.
About a dozen of us, including Marie, had dinner together afterwards at a nearby hotel, Le Méridien, telling more stories. Toward the end, Judge Vic pulled out his guitar and serenaded us into the night with a rendition of “If You Don’t Come Across.”
A video of the speeches, taken by Nancy Shack, can be seen HERE.