- March 24, 2020
Richard “Rich” Jesse Merritt died Saturday, February 8, 2020, at his home in Cedar Rapids. He was 76. He was a giant of industrial automation and control technical communications, serving countless publications and clients over his long career, including Automation.com and ISA’s InTech magazine.
In agreement with his wishes, Rich was cremated, and no services were held. Then came the Coronavirus restrictions, and the family’s planned Celebration of Life was delayed. So, here is a little about the man who touched so many lives through his spoken and written words.
On his LinkedIn page, Rich wrote: “Almost all my life has been in automation and process control—including developing automation systems, writing about them as an editor, and marketing them to customers. I know products and technologies, and I know how to write about them in a clear, concise way that gets the attention of magazine editors and their readers. I also understand the needs of a company’s sales force, and how to produce materials that help them sell products.”
So good was he, Rich even penned the winning caption for an Automation.com Otto Mation comic in June 2013.
“I have always been amazed at the way Rich can call upon his vast industry experience and technical knowledge to write on any subject involving process control and automation,” said Dan Hebert, PE and principal of Controls PR. “He writes like he's ‘been there, done that’ and his writing is typically crystal clear. He also has a knack for interviewing people, from machine builders to systems integrators to control engineers, and manages to wrest gems of knowledge from them.”
Rich was a storyteller and a technologist who wrote a lot of automation-related copy over the years. “Rich was one of our most valued writers from 2009 to 2019,” said Hebert, “creating hundreds of beautifully crafted articles, press releases, and whitepapers. His passion for promoting our clients' products and services to their customers was unequalled.”
Rich was a guy many considered a friend. David Sear, editor for Valve World magazine, said “Rich and I knew each other and developed a friendship without every really becoming acquainted. That may sound strange, but it will probably strike a chord with many who work in the wonderful yet transient world of PR, editing and journalism. Our communication was often sporadic and sadly always digital, but come what may I could rely on receiving an e-mail from Rich around November: ‘Hey Dave, I see you've got a special issue next April that might interest my client... what can we provide you with?’”
Sear said those exchanges would prompt a spate of e-mails during which he knew he could trust Rich’s professionality but also got to know a little of his unique nature. “Seeing Rich's name pop up on my PC always added a little sunshine to the cloudiest of days,” said Sear. “And even in passing, Rich still managed to make me smile; after 15 years, as we shared observations on life, I finally discovered we both share a taste for Scotch whisky.”
Rich wrote news, articles, products and a column for Control magazine in the late 1990s and early aughts. As senior technical editor, he said, “My writing helped take Control from third place to the Number 1 magazine in its field. I won 10 ASBPE writing awards in four years, including Best Column three years in a row, and Best Technical article four times.”
Paul Studebaker, editor in chief of Control Magazine and ControlGlobal.com at the time, said Rich never shied away from taking controversial positions on topics, such as “manufacturing execution systems, or MES, (bad!) to climate change (good!).”
“Rich also made me jealous with extended trips to Hawaii and his excellent motor racing skills,” Studebaker said. “He linked me to videos so I could ride along, and I watched his humble BMW eat Vettes and Vipers. Rich also left his mark on my younger son, now 26, then perhaps 14. At the memorial for Walt Boyes’s wife, Rich schooled my son: ‘Adam,’ he said, ‘Life's too short to drive boring cars.’ Then he went and proved it.”
Studebaker said you could always tell you were reading one of Rich's pieces because, eventually, you'd encounter an “Alas, ...” Even today, a quick search for “alas” on ControlGlobal.com brings up tons of vintage Rich:
- “Alas, I rarely see anyone who actually might know what is going on inside the company....”
- “Alas, most HMI vendors appear to be dragging their feet....”
- “Alas, the people on the home planet also died, from a disease spread by unsterilized telephones.”
Rich, you will be missed.
—Renee Bassett, chief editor, Automation.com
Rich Merritt’s winning caption for Automation.com’s June 18, 2013 Otto Mation Comic
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