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Monica Merritt, who lived life with gusto, dies at 61

Monica Merritt, of Levittown and North Bellmore, was

Monica Merritt, of Levittown and North Bellmore, was an independent spirit who lived life with gusto, her family said. She died at age 61 on Sept. 25. Credit: Courtesy of Mary Nolan

Monica Merritt knew how to live life — with joy and gusto and countless friends, along with music and dancing and lots and lots of sports.

And she was an independent spirit.

"She had her own way of doing things, like it not … and I loved it," her sister said.

No wonder Levittown embraced her.

Her sister, Mary Nolan, of North Bellmore, recalled teasing Monica when they were kids hanging out in a group. When someone outside the family tried to join in, a defender with a tough-guy reputation stepped in.

"He jumped up and held him and said, ‘She can say it, she’s her sister; you can’t,’ " Nolan remembered.

There were other similarly memorable occasions when Monica Merritt brought out the best in someone else: For instance, Levittown High School football star, Robert "Bobby" Hudak, accepted her invitation to her school’s prom. Another young gentleman she first invited had declined.

The Hudaks lived across the street and Bobby's sister, Elaine, was one of Monica's lifelong friends, recalled her brother Dan Merritt, of Oyster Bay.

Monica Merritt died on Sept. 25 of Alzheimer's disease. She was 61.

Her brother Jim Merritt, of Hempstead, has chronicled what it was like for her and his family, growing up as medical breakthroughs and widening acceptance improved the lives of those, like Monica, who were born with Down syndrome.

Nolan singled out their mother, Virginia, for researching and then ensuring that Monica got all the early therapy that era offered.

Newsday readers may recall the four stories former columnist Ed Lowe wrote about Monica, including one in his book of columns, and how he made it known she was his favorite subject.

Thanks to her brother Jim, who has written for Newsday for three decades as a freelancer, Monica also got to meet her favorite football star: Joe Namath from her beloved Jets. His smile and direct downward gaze — she was quite a bit shorter — in their photo together betrays his kindness.

Monica had the gifts of a warm heart, an innocence and no want of energy, her family said.

"She just had such a great life; to her, the world was a wonderful place," said her sister. "She walked in the room; lightning struck."

Monica lived with her parents, tending to them both, especially her father, George, who died five years ago. She then lived with her sister.

Describing his sister’s childhood, growing up in the 1960s, Dan Merritt said, "Ít was a lot of love, it was a lot of neighborhood, it was a lot of family."

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