One in a series of occasional portraits of people COVID-19 has taken from us.

Sharon Merrill got her first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in late January. It was too late.

There was already an outbreak in the nursing home where she lived, and Merrill had been infected before the vaccine could take effect. The longtime guidance counselor in Cape Elizabeth who loved adventure and traveled the world, died Feb. 6 from complications of COVID-19. She was 77.

Sharon Merrill, a family photo

Merrill began her career in education as a French teacher and guidance counselor at schools in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. From 1971 to 1982, she was director of guidance for the Raymond Consolidated School District in New Hampshire and earned three master’s degrees. She joined Cape Elizabeth High School as director of the guidance department in 1982 and held the position for 28 years before retiring in 2010.

Merrill was remembered by family and former colleagues this week as a dedicated educator who helped hundreds of students gain acceptance into colleges and universities.

The news of Merrill’s passing was shared on the Facebook page for the New England Association for College Admission Counseling. Bill McMurray, director of college counseling and guidance at Bishop Fenwick High School in Massachusetts, wrote that they talked often about applicants and their mutual love of Maine.

“I am saddened to learn of the death of Sharon Merrill,” McMurray wrote. “Sharon and I shared many good times on the NEACAC governing board in the 1980s and 1990s. She was always a kind and helpful colleague.”

Merrill served on numerous professional associations, committees, board of directors and educational teams. She was widely recognized for her contributions to the counseling profession. In 1993, was recognized by the Maine Association of Counseling and Development with its Distinguished Counselor of the Year Award.

In addition to her work at the high school, Merrill operated a private college planning business from 1992 to 2013. William Utley, her husband of 15 years, said she helped hundreds of students in the Cape Elizabeth and South Portland area.

“She was totally dedicated to her craft of being a high school college counselor,” Utley said. “She loved steering kids to really good colleges. She was very dedicated to helping students.”

Sharon Merrill skiing at Big Sky, Montana in 2012 Family photo

Merrill also was remembered as a strong, intelligent, and adventurous woman, who had a passion for life. She loved skiing, traveling, golfing and fishing.

She previously was married to M. Heinie Merrill for 28 years. Prior to his death in 1999, the Merrills traveled to Scandinavia, Austria and the Rocky Mountains. She also enjoyed trips to England, Scotland, France, Switzerland, Portugal, Costa Rica and Cuba. Every winter she spent a week or more skiing the U.S. and Canadian Rockies with her sisters and their husbands.

She and Utley married in 2006 after meeting through Match.com.

“We lived 2.5 miles apart and never would have met otherwise,” said Utley, whose first wife died in 2003. “She was interesting and extremely bright. She was one of the most voracious readers I’ve ever met. She was very well-traveled. We had a lot of fun early on. She couldn’t get me back skiing, but she got me back into golf.”

Merrill volunteered for numerous local organizations in the Brunswick area. She served on the board of directors of the Brunswick Golf Course. She also volunteered at the Curtis Memorial Library and at the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program food pantry.

Sharon Merrill with her sisters and sister-in-law in Harpswell in 2013. Back row left to right: Barbara Higgins, Cheryl Harmon, Dianna Lee, Sharon and Audrey Briggs. Virginia Moody is in front. For 27 years, the sisters gathered every summer for a Maine adventure. Family photo

Merrill had battled Alzheimer’s disease for about seven years. In 2015, she was involved in severe ski accident in Vail, Colorado, that left her with a brain injury. Her husband said she spent six months in a rehabilitation facility before coming home. Soon after, she was diagnosed with a condition that affected her muscles. In August 2019, she fell and broke her hip.

“She got hit with a triple whammy,” Utley said. “Really, the last four years were pretty miserable for her. She was basically housebound. She didn’t feel good enough to get up and do anything.”

Most recently, she lived at the Governor King memory care wing of Catagan Lodge at The Highlands in Topsham. Utley said he visited her often and brought her blueberry muffins.

Merrill was diagnosed with COVID-19 the day after she received her first dose of the vaccine. She would have been exposed before getting the shot, and it takes two weeks after inoculation for the vaccine to become fully effective.

She died 10 days after being diagnosed. Because of COVID-19 precautions, Utley said it had been about three weeks since he last saw his wife. After she died, he dressed in personal protective equipment and was able to spend time with her and say goodbye.

“I’ll miss her company,” Utley said. “Actually, I’ve been missing her for a long time. She hated being in long-term care. She spent the last year wanting to come home anytime I saw her. It was the one thing she could focus on. She couldn’t remember the names of our cats or where we lived, but she knew she wanted to come home. At least she’s at peace now. They told me she died very peacefully.”


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