Dr. Melanie Littell North died at her residence in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, on May 11, 2019 from heart disease. She was 65. Funeral services were held privately.
Melanie was born in Newark, New Jersey, on February 19, 1954. She was raised in Livingston, New Jersey, by her parents Robert S. Littell, a construction worker, and mother Marie (Divorcain) Littell, a stay at home mother. She graduated from Livingston High School in 1972, and from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1976.
Melanie was a woman of the world; whose passion was travel. In her lifetime, she traveled to over 40 countries, some of which included Egypt, China, Tanzania, Madagascar, the Galapagos Islands, and Easter Island. Melanie's hunger for different cultures was insatiable, and every international adventure was quickly followed by her brainstorming the next one. Melanie shared her love for travel with her son Jesse and mother Marie, starting off Jesse when he was 5 years old, and using it to reinvigorate Marie's life into her 80s. Although Melanie preferred to share her passion, she was unafraid to tackle an international sojourn alone. As a single woman in the mid-1980s, Melanie arrived at her hotel in Giza, Egypt, seated herself at a table for one at the hotel's restaurant, and confidently sipped a glass of wine while she gazed at her unobstructed view of the Great Pyramid.
Travel was a gateway to art of all kinds for Melanie, who particularly settled in the medium of painting. A gifted painter, Melanie created vibrant floral and landscape works from her 20s through her 60s. Often turning to her own photographs and memories from her travels for inspiration, Melanie's house was adorned with her artworks, which always became one of the first topics of conversation for visiting guests. Those guests were often invited deeper into Melanie's view of the world through her cooking, which included an eclectic repertoire of global recipes, ranging from French, to Chinese, Thai, and Middle Eastern.
For Melanie, travel and art were tied together by a common theme that was greatly important to her - education. Melanie rose to become one of the most academically accomplished of her peers, earning two master's degrees from William Paterson University. She ultimately achieved a doctorate degree in educational administration from Seton Hall University in 2003 - a six-year academic program that she completed in two years.
Melanie used her degrees to rise to the top of her field in education, serving as principal of The Hillside Academy in Hillside Township, New Jersey; principal of The Stepping Stone School in Bloomsbury, New Jersey; and earlier, assistant director and educational coordinator at Lord Stirling School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey; and began her career in education as a teacher at The Windsor School in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. Melanie built a meaningful career creating educational opportunities for special education students with behavioral and emotional challenges with the purpose of fostering successful paths in their lives.
While she was leading private educational institutions, Melanie also made time to serve on the Board of Education in her hometown of Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, where her son Jesse was a student. She served for seven years.
Despite a resume bursting with accomplishments, Melanie would tell anyone she encountered that her greatest was her son Jesse. Melanie raised Jesse as a single mother, wearing the hard-worn hats of nurturer, provider, teacher, role model, confidant, and friend. Melanie took each of her aforementioned passions and accomplishments and used them to instill in her son an appreciation for the world, culture, and underprivileged communities, and taught him compassion and generosity. Every decision of Melanie's became motivated by Jesse, as she entered the field of education so that she could be home with him during summer vacations, and earned her degrees so she could make a comfortable living to provide for them. Melanie saw international travel as her greatest gift to Jesse, serving as a pseudo summer school that would extend his education and awareness of the world beyond the classroom. Melanie saw her efforts come to fruition as Jesse graduated with honors from Temple University with a degree in journalism, and become a senior producer at NBC News, where he currently serves. Melanie also delighted in Jesse's marriage to Zachary Laks, a theater producer and travel writer, whom she quickly adopted as her own son.
Melanie is survived by her son, Jesse North; son in law, Zachary Laks; brother, Dr. Robert S. Littell; and ex-husband, David North.
Melanie was a fierce advocate for women's rights and gender equality, which she displayed through her spoken beliefs and life accomplishments. Therefore, in lieu of flowers, mourners may donate to She's The First, a non-profit organization that fights gender inequality through education, helping to support young women who will be the first to graduate from high school. Melanie was the first in her family to graduate from college. She believed deeply in education, and in her role as a single mother and independent woman, served as a pioneer in the fight for gender equality. Those considering a donation may contribute in her memory at shesthefirst.org/donate.