Mary Ellen “Melon” Cooke Johnson of Princeton, N.J., died peacefully on Dec. 5, 2017. She was born July 5, 1930, in Chestnut Hill, Pa., to Jay Cooke IV and Mary Glendinning Cooke. Her sister, Nina Cooke Cochran of Hulls Cove, predeceased her. She graduated magna cum laude and valedictorian from Springside School, where she was president of the student government and played varsity field hockey, basketball and lacrosse. She also attended Wellesley College, where as class president she committed to memory every student’s name so she could address each one personally on the first day of school.
In 1946, Melon met the love of her life, naval air pilot Hallett Johnson Jr., on the top of Cadillac Mountain in Maine’s Acadia National Park. They married in 1950 and moved to Stone House Farm, Princeton, N.J., where they raised four children, many of their children’s friends and countless horses, cows, sheep, pigs, chicken, dairy goats, bees and an ever-expanding number of abandoned cats with great love, grace and humor. Together they championed organic farming and community co-ops long before they were a trend. They also shared a lifelong love of competitive sports and the outdoors, racing on board Seagull and Sandia along the Atlantic seaboard, competing in tennis matches in New Jersey and on Mount Desert Island and flyfishing at their cherished Ogontz in Pennsylvania.
Melon also was an equestrian, competing sidesaddle on her beloved Flagpole; a fearless singles tennis competitor, winning the Pretty Brook Tennis Club singles and parent/child championships; a baseball and football aficionado that enjoyed the notoriety of being the first and only woman for years in all-male fantasy baseball league. She also dearly loved gardening and was passionate about conservation. The Garden Club of America and the Garden Club of Princeton awarded her the Margaret Dulles Sebring Club Conservation Award and the GCA Medal of Merit in recognition of her Civic Projects and “quiet competence.” Capable of running a small country, she loved managing teams of dealers and buyers at the annual Princeton Antiques Show and Bryn Mawr-Wellesley Book Sale.
An early pioneer in squash, she won the US Squash Junior Girls Championship while at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, won the national doubles championship three times (1960-1962) with fellow pioneer Susie O’Neil, won the National Singles (1980) and was for many decades the driving force behind the New Jersey State Women’s Championship tournament and the annual Howe Cup Team Championship, which she ran while also coaching squash at Princeton University. She received the US Squash Racquets Achievement Bowl Award for contributions to the sportsmanship and advancement of the game. In field hockey, she and squash coach Betty Constable founded and coached the first women’s team at Princeton University in 1970 (it then became one of the first original women’s varsity sports to be introduced in 1971-72), competed on an adult regional team and was a high school and college field hockey official referee through her 60s, earning numerous awards for service and growing the game.
She won the admiration, respect and gratitude of all she touched for her kindness, compassion, ethics, inclusivity and joyful sense of humor. Her humbleness, humanity and steadfast belief in the goodness within us all will forever light our way forward. She was the heart and soul of her large, boisterous and adoring family. The world is a better and more beautiful place because she walked it; she will be missed deeply as she’s moved on to ever-blooming gardens and a place where her beloved Phillies may win every year.
Melon is survived by her four children: Hallett Johnson III and his wife, Barbara, of Birmingham, Ala.; Mary Johnson of Dorset, Vt.; Livingston Johnson and his wife, Maria, of Skillman, N.J.; and Beth Johnson Nixon and her husband, David, of Greenwich, Conn. In addition, she is survived by nine grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, at Trinity Church in Princeton, N.J. Contributions in Melon’s memory may be made to Friends of Acadia, 43 Cottage St., Bar Harbor, ME 04609.