THEODORE MELNECHUK, 89, Polymath, Writer, and Organizer

Theodore (Ted) Melnechuk, a poet for seven decades who meanwhile founded a variety of publications in the arts and sciences, university programs in the arts and sciences, and local programs in the arts, died on March 1, 2017, in Amherst, MA, after a brief illness, his son Andrew said.

Theodore Victorovich Melnechuk was born on January 7, 1928, to Olga Demianovitch and Victor Jakovitch Melnechuck in New York City, where he was raised. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School, where he founded Horizons, a literary-arts magazine still extant, and was awarded the English Gold Medal at graduation. At Columbia College, he was art and poetry editor of both Jester and the Columbia Review, which published his light and serious poetry, the latter including poems that won him prizes shared with schoolmates Allen Ginsberg and John Hollander in contests judged by W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and Mark Van Doren. His later poems were published mostly in scientific journals and books, except for his translations of Lithuanian poems in The Green Oak (1962) and The Green Linden (1964).

A year after graduating at 20, he married Anna Krilovitch, while attending Columbia Graduate School for a year. Before long, he and his wife had four children. To support his family, he worked at a variety of full-time, part-time, and free-lance jobs—as a literary assistant and book order librarian, telephone answering-service publicist, map draftsman and editor, translator of Soviet maps for the U. S. Air Force, physical science and technology writer and editor, and head of a Russian translation service at the request of a government intelligence agency. He also ghost-wrote Psychology Made Simple (1957).

In 1961, he became the senior associate editor of International Science & Technology, primarily recruiting expert scientists and engineers to write articles on vanguard research and development, but also himself writing articles on subjects too broad for specialists, based on interviews with the dozen world leaders of a field. In 1963, this led him to be invited to MIT to join Institute Professor Francis O. Schmitt in developing and running the new interdisciplinary, interinstitutional, international Neuroscience Research Program based there, at which, as Communications Director, he founded the first serial publications to use the new word “neuroscience” in their titles, including what came to be considered the Bible of the new field, The Neurosciences: A Study Program (1967). Meanwhile, as a visiting associate professor, he was founding director of the nation’s first graduate program in science communication, at Boston University. He also served on the Council of Science Editors’ committee on graduate training in scientific writing and helped prepare its manual, Scientific Writing for Graduate Students (1968).

In 1972, he joined the nonprofit Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in La Jolla, California, where he convened the first conference on, and wrote the first book on Cell Receptor Disorders (1978). From 1978 to 1991 he co-taught a course in neuroscientific communication with neurophysiologist Theodore H. Bullock in the University of California at San Diego’s Graduate Department of Neuroscience, which he had earlier helped to plan. He also was a founder of UCSD’s program in “Music, Mind, and Brain.” He worked with Jonas Salk on the committee that founded the so-called “genius awards,” and with Nobel Laureate Roger Guillemin to organize the world’s first international conference on psychoneuroimmunology, coediting with him and Salk Institute immunologist Melvin Cohn its proceedings, Neural Modulation of Immunity (1983). He co-organized and co-edited with neurochemist and psychiatrist Claude F. Baxter Perspectives in Schizophrenia Research (1980). In 1984, at the invitation of Eileen Rockefeller Growald, he became half-time director of research communication for her new journal Advances in Mind-Body Health, for which he organized, co-chaired, and reported a conference on “How might positive emotions affect physical health?” Meanwhile, his play in verse with original music, The Loves of Don Juan, was produced in a San Diego theater. He also helped to found San Diego’s community television and served on its board of directors.

In 1991, he retired to Amherst, where he was made an off-campus associate member of the Graduate Program in Neuroscience & Behavior at UMass Amherst, and where he wrote the article on “Music” for the Elsevier Encyclopedia of Neuroscience (1999). He served on the board of Amherst Community Television and produced for it films on local musical performances and painting exhibits for the benefit of shut-ins. He also founded, ran, and read in local open poetry readings, and wrote a column on the activities of his fellow college classmates for Columbia College Today. As his wife’s health declined, he became her main home health aide.
His wife of 57 years died in November 2006. He is survived by their four children: Eve Melnechuk of Somerville MA, Andrew Melnechuk and Josna Rege of Amherst MA, Daniel Melnechuk and Amy Rothstein of Waltham MA, and Vera King of Waltham MA and Woolwich ME; and their grandson Nikhil Melnechuk of New York, NY.

Ted wrote this draft of his obituary in 2007, and did not get around to updating it. (We filled in the current details in blanks he left for us.) We would like to add this about his last decade:
In his last ten years of life, Ted maintained his New York Times clipping service for friends and relatives, wrote a limerick a day until a few years ago, and produced a monthly journal of jokes and clippings for one of his friends. He was the guest speaker at the Bowery Poetry Club’s Ginsberg Turn On #9 event on July 5th, 2011. He kept active in three local groups: a book group, the Ex-New Yorkers group, and a post polio group; and right up until December 2016 hosted both a poker night and a get together of family and friends once a month.

Instead of flowers, please make a donation to Bowery Arts+Science at melnechuk.com/in-memory-of, the non-profit that runs the historic Bowery Poetry Club in New York City, currently run by Nikhil Melnechuk, for the Ted Melnechuk Arts and Science Award, which recognizes a person whose work exemplifies a confluence of the two disciplines.