In Memoriam: Daniel Melley

Daniel M. Melley
Daniel M. Melley

Daniel Melley, former vice chancellor, died on Saturday, Aug. 15. His obituary, as it appeared in The Daily Hampshire Gazette on Aug. 17, is as follows:

Daniel M. Melley, a former vice chancellor at the University of Massachusetts and longtime resident of Amherst, passed away Saturday in Northampton. He was 87.

A lifelong champion for access to affordable higher education, he devoted a 35-year career to his alma mater. After retirement, he became chairman of the board of trustees at Elms College in Chicopee, where he helped shepherd the college through a difficult transition to co-education and financial sustainability. His commitment to education was second only to his love for his family and Roman Catholic faith that extended to charitable work throughout Western Massachusetts.

Known to everyone as Dan, he was kind and gentle and generous with his time. He took great joy in helping others -- from UMass students to the disadvantaged children of Brightside for Families and Children, a Catholic nonprofit where he served as trustee and president.

Dan worked at every level of the university’s public relations operation, beginning in its fledgling news bureau and rising to oversee all communications, alumni affairs, government relations and development with a staff of about 100. He was the voice of the administration as the university grew from a land grant college of 10,500 undergraduate students in 1964 to a major research university of 25,000 students by the 1990s.

As campus spokesman, he was admired for his grace under pressure during countless crises: raucous protests and student occupations of the Whitmore Administration Building during the ‘60s and ‘70s; state budget cuts; and a 1980 drought that forced the university to send 11,000 students home on the second day of classes.

Dan ran spring commencement ceremonies, wrote speeches for the chancellor and occasionally taught courses in public relations. With a calm cadence to his rich baritone voice, he often emceed alumni and other major events. He secured the gift that created the Robsham Memorial Center for Visitors, a gateway to the campus that he long advocated for.  

With a quick wit, Dan frequently used humor to defuse tense situations. He was a storyteller in the Irish tradition, regaling friends with narrative jokes and self-deprecating anecdotes alike. He roasted scores of friends and colleagues with satirical "press releases," and was not above performing in costume for a laugh. It was hard to tell him a joke he did not already know.  

His passions included golf, music, reading, and all things lobster. He eschewed DIY home maintenance, claiming that his father’s talent in cabinetmaking and civil engineering had “skipped a generation.” In his spare time, Dan enthusiastically led “turf management seminars,” as he referred to golf outings. He grew vegetables in a barely-tended jungle he referred to as his “Darwin garden.”

Born in Boston on June 1, 1933, Dan grew up in the suburb of Milton, where his father, William P., was the head of the Water Department and later served as president of the Milton Cooperative Savings Bank. His mother, Harriet (Murdock), was a teacher, a member of the Milton School Board.

After graduating from UMass in 1955 with a B.A. in English, Dan served three years in Army counterintelligence in Tokyo. After returning home, he worked at First National Bank of Boston while earning an M.A. in public relations at Boston University. In Boston, he became reacquainted with Ellen O’Maley, a schoolteacher who graduated a year after him at UMass. They married in 1962 and had the first of three children the next year.

Following graduate school, he declined a lucrative job offer at Dupont to return to UMass and help prepare for the school’s centennial in 1963. Once there, he never worked on the centennial; instead he became a one-person news bureau at the rapidly expanding college. In 1964, he coached the school’s College Bowl team to an undefeated streak on the TV quiz show.  

Dan was active in his church and was a past president of Rotary Club of Amherst.

Dan is survived by his wife, Ellen, son Timothy (Katie Johnson) and grandson Liam of Cincinnati, son Brian (Lucy Nicholson) of Los Angeles, daughter Kathleen of Boston, brother David (Elinor) of Kennebunkport, Maine, sister-in-law Carol Melley of Naples, Florida, and many cousins, nephews and nieces. He is predeceased by his brother William P. Jr., sister Mary Melley Cotter and his parents.

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Brigid’s Parish in Amherst. In this time of coronavirus, seating will be limited and social distancing and masks required. Anyone not wanting to gather in church is welcome to attend a graveside memorial at 11:15 a.m. at Wildwood Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, those who wish may give donations to the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at UMass Amherst or to Elms College.