Helen Meredith Ellis Little, known as Meredith, was born in Stockton, California, on the cusp of the spring in 1934, to Helen Hoglund Ellis and Agler B. Ellis. By all accounts her first love was music. She took to the piano as a child and often played duets with her father. Music became the refrain of her life. She busked the streets of Paris with her recorder, performed organ recitals in German cathedrals, played the banjo around campfires, and held harpsichord concert in diverse settings, ranging from her living room to the employees’ dormitory in Yosemite, to concert halls in Maryland and D.C. On First Days between Worship Services, Meredith’s piano livened up the Meeting House with songs from theWorship in Song Friends Hymnal.
Meredith possessed a passion for learning and writing as well as teaching. She earned a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford. She authored journal articles on musicology and wrote several books including Dance and the Music of J.S.Bach; La Dance Noble, An Inventory of Dances and Sources; and a biography,The Remarkable Story of Gerhard and Helene Fritzsche. At Stanford, Meredith taught Early Music and directed performances in baroque Ballo. She was Assistant Professor of Music at Oakland University in Michigan, a faculty member at The Aston Magna Academy of Rutgers University Music, taught music at American University inWashington DC. and finally the University of Arizona. She once humorously summarized her philosophy of teaching in a phrase: “More like putting cows out to pasture than packing clothes in a suitcase.”
Riding the crest of a successful profession in music education, Meredith began a new career. She attended the University of Arizona College of Law and earned a J.D. in 1990 at the age of 56, though she never strayed from her instruments, especially her beloved harpsichord. She practiced law in Tucson for 16 years. In the midst of all this, Meredith was a board member of the local cooperative fittingly called TheFood Conspiracy.
Meredith and John Little were married in the chapel in Yosemite Valley in 1969. The couple had two children, Christopher and Bernice, and from 1977 the family resided in Tucson, Arizona.The couple divorced in 2012.
In 2002, Meredith met Jane Kroesen at the Pima Monthly Meeting. The two became fast friends and frequent hiking partners. Over time their relationship deepened and in 2010 they committed to spending the rest of their lives together. In 2008 Meredith had suffered an intracranial bleed deep in her brain. After a year and a half of rehabilitation, she recovered enough to live with her beloved Jane. She closed her law practice and lived a quiet life.
Meredith was a quintessential Seeker in line with the first generation Quakers. She approached life with curiosity, even fascination, traveling to distant places, cultivating relationships with people from all walks of life, climbing to alpine heights, always seeking, listening, and querying. Her quest for truth, for understanding, for Light, was lifelong. She was intrigued by people’s lives and their stories. She once hitchhiked with a friend across the United States simply to meet new and different people. She became an avid correspondent with many she met. Her feet touched several continents. The boxes of correspondence left behind reveal her kinship with people from around the world. Often the first words out of peoples’ mouths when mentioning Meredith was her kindness, her attentiveness and her authenticity.
Although Meredith was not raised with a denominational affiliation, she began reading the Bible as a teenager and briefly joined an evangelical Christian community. In her mid-30s, Meredith was introduced to Quakerism when she attended Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting in Maryland. When she took her 5-year-old son to the Peninsula School in Menlo Park, she met the founder, Josephine Duveneck, a Quaker who established the school on Quaker principles. After moving to Tucson in 1977, Meredith became a member of Pima Monthly Meeting and soon was deeply involved with the Meeting. She taught Quakerism classes, clerked both Pima Meeting and Arizona Half Yearly Meeting, and served on Ministry and Counsel of Intermountain Yearly Meeting. She wrote and taught a course on Non-Violence. During those years, Pima Monthly Meeting became a nexus of the Sanctuary Movement with Meredith right in the heart and heat of the work. She, alongside fellow Quaker Jim Corbett and others, welcomed the neighbor as friend, within the law when possible, and within QuakerTestimonies always, despite the cost.
She was also a member of the Joint Service Project Committee of American Friends Service Committee and served on the Tucson Committee AFSC.
In 2012, Meredith heard that Casa Mariposa, an intentional community where a mid-week Meeting for Worship was held, was folding for lack of funds to pay the rent. The community’s primary work was offering short-term hospitality to immigrants. Hearing this, Meredith bought the community a house and the ministry was able to continue at a crucial time when dozens of families were being dumped nightly without food or money at the local Greyhound by Border Patrol agents. Meredith had an uncanny way of being at the right place at the right time, with open mind and heart.
Alongside music, nature was Meredith’s twin passion and perhaps her terra firma--literally and figuratively. At 19 years of age she first set foot in Yosemite. It was love at first sight. The Sierras became her Paradise and its trails her pilgrimage. She saw creation as her primal place of worship. She returned there annually for six decades, missing 1963-1965. Only a Fulbright music scholarship in Paris could keep her away. She was among the early women rock climbers at Yosemite and was especially drawn to the alpine heights. She is pictured playing her recorder at the top of Eichorn Pinnacle in Yosemite. She once described her experience in the high country as “dancing on clouds.”
Meredith was one who saw Earth's beauty and inhabitants and celebrated them, who saw injustice and struggled to right it, who listened to the Still Small Voice and abided by it. The thrum of the Quaker Testimonies played lightly throughout her life and deeds. She passed from this life quietly on May15, 2020… leaving her light for us to carry on.