Dr. Marilyn Mehr is a teacher, psychologist, writer and social activist. After earning her B.A. from Brigham Young University, she studied Counseling Psychology at the University of Southern California where she graduated with a Ph.D. Subsequently, she taught physicians and health care professionals at the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, as well as the University of Southern California Medical School and Glendale Adventist Family Practice Residency Program. After teaching at the California School of Professional Psychology, she joined the University of Kentucky Medical School as a Professor of Family Medicine in 1993, for three years before devoting herself full time to her writing and speaking career.
For approximately the last ten years, Dr. Mehr committed herself to writing and social activism. She has written three books: The Courage to Achieve, with Betty A. Walker, Ph.D., published by Simon and Schuster in 1994; Broken Circuits: A History of Alzheimers in Four Voices, with her siblings, Nancy Snell, Dr. Judith Olson and Dennis R. Mehr; and, Holding the World Together, a novel about the settling of the frontier of Eastern Utah. She has also published numerous research articles in professional journals.
In 1997, she became Co-Chair of the East End Gay Organization. Shortly thereafter, she also became Co-President of the UU Congregation of the South Fork before becoming President, UU-United Nations Office. She is currently serving on the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Church of All Souls, New York City.
Dr. Mehr continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO). Her primary role is to educate UU members and congregations about the purpose and accomplishments of the United Nations. She also speaks to civic and religious groups about her journey from her Mormon religion to the Unitarian Universalists.
Some of the topics:
I have wanted to understand my grandmother’s life ever since she came to live with our family in California when I was sixteen years old. My grandfather had just died and Grossmutter Lena could no longer live alone. At first, my sisters and I thought she was odd, with her floor-length dresses, starched white aprons, and graying hair wrapped in a neat bun at the nape of her neck. My grandmother seemed like a maid who relied on a fractured blend of English and German. She often spoke to me in this strange argot after dinner when she knotted together her rag rugs, reminiscing about her life and its many difficulties. After she died a few years later, I became curious about her life, as well as my grandfather Eduard’s. Why had they left their secure, picturesque village of St. Gallen, why had they they converted to this unusual American church and how had they survived on the harsh, but beautiful area known as the Uintah Basin?
Finally, I bought a plane ticket and arrived in Zurich, caught the train to St. Gallen on a luminous spring day and descended into the broad plateau of the valley, bursting with tulips, wisteria, and phlox. At the station, I was directed to the Alt Stadt where I would find my hotel, the perfect location to conduct my research. For the first few days, I walked the cobble-stoned streets, trying to imagine my grandmother’s life there, how she met my grandfather, absorbing the many details of this proper university town. I haunted bookstores, visited museums, and talked to an old weaver, who told me about the trade my grandfather had left behind.
Then, I met Herr Mueller, Director of the Canton’s Archives. I asked him to find my grandparents, Lena and Edward, to find the details of their dates of birth, baptism, health records, addresses—all the facts the Swiss seem to store forever. As I waited, I asked myself what I really wanted to know about both of them--why they left, why they converted to the Mormon church, what they had left behind. When Herr Mueller returned, he apologized for finding that my grandmother had been a governess, although the news was not a surprise to me. He told me that my grandfather had lived in the adjoining village, but gave me their separate Swiss addresses.
My grandmother’s address was only a five-minute walk away. At 11 Sonnenstrasse, I found an imposing two-story building. Here she had lived and worked for ten years. Here she had been converted to a new religion. Here she had packed her trunk and left for America. I felt close to her and had a small sense of what she had lost. My discovery wasn’t as acute in my grandfather’s village, Alpenzell, because his cottage had been destroyed for a Supermarche.
Jakob and Anna's chapters in Holding the World Together are based upon personal stories, letters, books, and research conducted both in the U.S. and Switzerland. While it has not been possible to know their feelings about their experiences, I have tried to imagine their inner lives and their conflicts based upon the above facts. I have begun to appreciate the vast distances they traveled and to offer their stories to the reader who may identify with his or her own ancestors. I have also discovered their courage.
The character of Ben Colorow is a composite based on several trips I made to the Uintah Basin, interviewing members of the Ute Nation, reading historical records and imagining what the life of a courageous, talented young Ute would have been like as he struggled with the confinement of forced attendance at a Presbyterian school, then traveled to Salt Lake City to attend law school at a time when there was considerable prejudice against Native Americans. I have based his meeting of my grandmother and their intertwined stories on what might have been if the two cultures had shared a common love of the earth, love of their cultures, and love of one another.