Born July 5, 1930, in Chestnut Hill to Jay Cooke IV and Mary Glendinning Cooke, she was the younger sister of Nina Cooke Cochran, who predeceased her. She graduated magna cum laude and valedictorian from Springside School, where she was president of the student government and played field hockey, basketball and lacrosse.
She also attended Wellesley College, where as class president she memorized every student’s name so she could address each one personally on the first day of school.
In 1946, Melon met the love of her life, naval air pilot Hallett Johnson, Jr., on the top of Maine’s Cadillac Mountain. They married in 1950 and moved to Stone House Farm in Princeton, NJ, where they raised four children, many of their children’s friends, and countless horses, cows, sheep, pigs, chicken, goats and bees with great love, grace and humor. Together they championed organic farming and community coops before they were a trend.
They shared a lifelong love of the outdoors and competitive sports, including sailboat racing, tennis and flyfishing. Melon also was an equestrian, competing sidesaddle on her beloved Flagpole, and a baseball aficionado – the first woman for years in a fantasy baseball league. Passionate about gardening and conservation, she received the Garden Club of America and the Garden Club of Princeton’s Margaret Dulles Sebring Club Conservation Award and GCA Medal of Merit for Civic Projects and her “quiet competence.” Capable of running a small country, she loved managing teams of dealers and buyers at the annual Princeton Antiques Show and Bryn Mawr-Wellesley Book Sale.
An early squash pioneer, she won the US Women’s Doubles Consolation three times (1960-62) with fellow pioneer Susie O’Neil, and many regional titles. She was the driving force for years behind the NJ State Women’s Championship and the Howe Cup Team Championship, which she ran while coaching squash at Princeton University. She received the US Squash Racquets Achievement Bowl Award for sportsmanship and advancement of the game. In field hockey, she and squash coach Betty Constable founded and coached the first women’s team at Princeton University in 1970 (it became one of the first women’s varsity sports in 1971) and was a field hockey umpire through her 60s, earning awards for service and growing the game.
She won the admiration and respect of all she touched for her kindness, integrity and joyful sense of humor. Her humbleness, humanity and steadfast belief in the goodness within us all will forever light our way forward. She was the heart and soul of her large, boisterous and adoring family. The world is a better and more beautiful place because she walked it; she will be missed deeply as she’s moved on to ever-blooming gardens and a place where her beloved Phillies may win every year.
Melon is survived by her four children: Hallett Johnson III of Birmingham, AL; Mary Johnson of Dorset, VT; Livingston Johnson of Skillman, NJ; and Beth Johnson Nixon of Greenwich, CT. She also is survived by nine grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.
A memorial service will be held at 11:00 a.m. Saturday, January 27, 2017, at Trinity Church in Princeton, NJ. Contributions in Melon’s memory may be made to the D&R Greenway Land Trust, One Preservation Place, Princeton, NJ 08540.