When Harriet Luce (nee Work) received a press badge certifying her position as the Merrick Life editor, the community’s former hometown newspaper, her son Allan said she “lit up like a flare.”
“Do you know what this means?” Luce said. “I can go anywhere I want!”
Allan explained that his mother’s enthusiasm was matched by her dedication to bettering the community. “If there was a civic duty to be performed,” he said, “she felt obliged to take a swing at it.”
Luce’s daughter, Amy Ullrich, said this sense of devotion lasted throughout her mother’s life. Luce died on Dec. 3 after living with Alzheimer’s disease for several years. She was 90.
Luce was born in 1930 in Buffalo and grew up in Pennsylvania, where her father worked as a steel engineer. She studied liberal arts at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, and was working for the B. Altman & Company department store in Manhattan in 1955 when she met her second husband, Robert Luce, at a cocktail party. Robert, who predeceased her, worked at an advertising company a few blocks from the department store at the time.
Harriet gave birth to Allan in 1951, during her first marriage. She had her second son, Andrew, with Robert in 1957, and together they moved the family to Merrick before Amy was born in 1959.
Ullrich compared the household to “one of those idyllic families, like ‘Leave it to Beaver.’”
But Luce wanted to be more than a homemaker, according to Ullrich, so she started volunteering around the community. She was a den mother for the Cub Scouts, a troop leader for the Girl Scouts, president of the Camp Avenue Parent Teacher Association and a trustee of the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District Board of Education.
“She always wanted to make everyone feel safe and secure so they could enjoy living in their community,” Ullrich said. “Anything you needed help with, she was willing to help.”
Allan recalled a vivid example of his mother’s ingenuity. When he was 13, his Boy Scout troop hosted a spaghetti dinner at the Community Presbyterian Church in Merrick. The mothers were in charge of preparing the meal, and Luce was tasked with making the salad. But because there were several cases of lettuce to be washed, and Luce only had a small sink to work with, she decided to rinse the lettuce in the church’s washing machine. She then loaded it into the dryer for a light spin.
“It worked like a charm,” Allan said.
Luce joined Merrick Life as an editor in the mid-1970s. Her interest in writing — as well as her inclination to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations — made her a perfect fit for the job.
“She would sit so far back so she could hear everybody’s conversations over the booths” at the diner, Ullrich said with a laugh. “She always wanted to know what was going on.”
Merrick Life was founded 1938 as the flagship newspaper of L&M Publications, a weekly newspaper group that came to include the Bellmore Life, the Freeport-Baldwin Leader and the Wantagh-Seaford Citizen. Faith and Johannes Laursen purchased L&M in 1958, and served as publishers for 30 years, working with editors Grace Anton, Dorcas Carlos and Luce over the years.
Before Richner Communications, parent company of the Bellmore and Merrick Heralds, acquired L&M in 2013, the Laursens’ daughter, Linda Toscano, took over as publisher in 1988, while her brother, Paul Laursen, served as editor.
“She had a great smile, a great sense of fun and a great sense of humor,” Paul said of Luce. “She would ask for my ‘profound professional opinion,’ which showed she liked alliteration as much as I did.”
Luce went on to work in public relations at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, and then Winthrop University Hospital, now NYU Langone, in Mineola. After she retired, she volunteered as a patient advocate at Meadowbrook Care Center in Freeport. When she returned there two years ago to receive treatment after she broke her knee, the staff remembered her, Ullrich said.
“That was a moment when I realized she was really something,” her daughter said. “My mom was a gift to all who have known her. Her presence was unforgettable, and her presents are never ending.”
In addition to her children, Luce is survived by her grandchildren, Daniel (Christyn) Bowker, Amanda (Ben) Knol and Elliot Ullrich, and a great-grandson, Henry Knol.