William Francis Melvin, a former literature teacher and diplomat, died November 22, 2017 in Reston, Virginia, at the age of 88. He had been in poor health for some time.
Melvin was born on June 18, 1929, in Boston. He attended Roxbury Latin School in Massachusetts as well as Harvard University, from which he graduated cum laude.
For about eight years in the early 1960s, he was an English teacher at The Putney School, in Putney, Vermont – a liberal, arts-oriented boarding school. He favored discussion over lectures, and encouraged students to express their own ideas on literary works and discuss them with each other.
He was such a popular teacher that he was often called “Hibill” – with both i’s pronounced short, as in Bill – because wherever he went, students called out “Hi, Bill!” in greeting.
While teaching at The Putney School, he led students on numerous hiking trips, including at least one winter assault on the summit of Mount Washington, in New Hampshire. He also owned a log cabin in Crawford’s Notch, New Hampshire, lit only by kerosene lamps and heated by a wood stove and a fireplace. He often spent the summer chopping wood so that he would be able to heat the cabin at Christmastime, which he liked to spend at the cabin with his family.
In the academic year 1968-’69, he taught English in Paris, after which he returned to the United States and taught literature at the Ethel Walker School, in Simsbury, Connecticut.
In 1974, Melvin embarked on an adventure with his oldest son, Don, hitchhiking virtually coast to coast – from New Hampshire to Washington State, sleeping outdoors and working as day laborers along the way to support themselves.
In the Columbia River Valley, he and his son picked apples with the migrant workers, then took their earnings and enjoyed the expo in Spokane.
At age 45, Melvin joined the Peace Corps. He was assigned to the mountainous southern African country of Lesotho – a country of which he had never previously heard, and the name of which he did not know how to pronounce.
So much did he enjoy teaching in Lesotho, he stayed in the Peace Corps for five years instead of the usual two.
Following his time in the Peace Corps, Melvin became a Foreign Service Officer with the United States Information Agency. He was a Public Affairs Officer and served in the countries of Zambia, Lesotho, and Gabon from 1979-1989. During this time, Melvin was also accredited to Swaziland, Botswana, and Sao Tome and Principe.
Melvin received the Department of State, United States of America Meritorious Honor Award for his service from 1983-1987:
"[Melvin] has consistently turned in an outstanding performance characterized by imagination, judgement, and hard work. A formerly lackluster public affairs program was transformed, due to his efforts, into a first-class operation of which the Mission and USIA can be justly proud."
Melvin also served as an East Africa Desk Officer and a Country Affairs Officer for the Southeast Asia region, working in Kenya, Uganda, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. He retired from the foreign service in 1994.
From 1995 through 2006, Melvin served as a Program Officer at AMIDEAST working on academic and cultural exchange fellowships for students from Cyprus as well as facilitating many conflict resolution camps between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. He retired in 2006.
Even in retirement, he continued to work, teaching English as a second language to Latino immigrants, volunteering at the Embry Rucker homeless shelter in Reston, VA, and working as an usher at George Mason University Center for the Arts.
Melvin was a lover of music from a very early age. At five years old, he was a choir boy in his local church. He sang first tenor in Harvard’s Glee Club. He later taught himself the recorder and taught the instrument to elementary school children. He passed his love of music on to his children, providing music lessons for them and enjoying musical performances with them at Wolftrap National Park for the Performing Arts and the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
He is survived by his wife, Qenehelo Gladys Melvin, to whom he was married for 37 years, his sons Don Melvin and Rethabile Melvin, and his daughters Sue Cronin and Palesa Hanc. He is also survived by his seven grandchildren and his two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held on Sunday, December 3, 2017 at 3:00 PM at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church 201 E Frederick Dr, Sterling, VA 20164.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to St. Matthew's Episcopal Church