Dad’s Tufts Letter Sweater Fits to a T

A Tufts alumna gives her father’s old varsity sweater new life—and keeps it in the family

When her daughter Eloise turned 16 last November, Meredith Melling, J96, wanted to mark the occasion in a special way. She knew Eloise didn’t want to make a big deal of it—“She just wanted to have dinner with a friend or go shopping,” Melling says. “But I wanted her to have a real sweet 16 keepsake.” She mulled over options until, one day, as she was searching for something in her closet, her eyes fell on her father’s old letter sweater from his days on the Tufts varsity soccer team. That’s when it came to her: she could repurpose the sweater to give her daughter something both unique and layered with meaning.

John Melling with the Tufts soccer team, 1967

John Melling, A70, D77, second from the left in the back row

The result was an oversized hoodie—brown, of course—sporting a big, blue T: the one that had adorned the sweater.

Melling’s daughter loved it. “I didn’t know how she was going to react,” Melling says. “But she wore it on her first day back to school after I gave it to her, and I knew that was a good sign: She was wearing it to school! In front of friends!”

For Melling, it was a poignant moment. Of her four children, Eloise, the eldest, was the only one who got to know Melling’s father, John Melling, A70, D77. John had been pre-med as an undergrad and a member of the fraternity Delta Upsilon, in addition to his playing on the soccer team. Later, after earning a degree from Tufts School of Dental Medicine, he worked as an orthodontist. Eloise was just eight years old when he died in 2014.

Eloise Burke and her grandfather, John Melling, A70, D77

Eloise Burke with her grandfather, John Melling, A70, D77

“My dad and Eloise had a special bond,” Melling says. “And she wears the sweatshirt all the time now, so his old letter has life again.”

Old Things, Given New Love and New Life

It wasn’t a stretch for Melling to conceive of a creative way to give the letter that new life. She has worked in the fashion industry since the beginning of her career, serving, for 16 years, as an editor at Vogue magazine and then striking out to launch a clothing line. Now, as co-founder and chief brand officer of the sophisticated label La Ligne, Melling thinks about clothing constantly—and she has a particular interest in garb from days gone by.

As she puts it: “If I’m not wearing my own clothing line, I’m usually wearing vintage. I’m always trying to nurture and repair vintage treasures that might not have been treated carefully but that have so much soul.” In fact, her company, which focuses on striped items, has a program called S.O.S.: Save Our Stripes. “With S.O.S., we repurpose old clothing or upcycle our vintage striped fabrics,” she offers, “so I’m always in the mindset of giving old things new love and a new life.”

As for the letter on her father’s Tufts sweater? “It was the most salvageable part—the only part that didn’t have a stain or a hole. The rest of it was pretty gross,” Melling admits. Despite its condition, when Melling found the sweater a few years ago, as her mother was preparing to move from Boston to New York City to be closer to her grandchildren, she knew she had to hold on to it. “It was super moth-eaten, but I didn’t want to part with it. I like holding on to things that were my father’s. It helps me hold on to memories,” Melling said.

Meredith Melling, Eloise, Burke, and John Melling

Meredith Melling, J96, with her daughter Eloise and father, John Melling, A70, D77

There was another reason, too, for Melling to feel attached to an item of Tufts memorabilia: her mother Jane Wade Riley, J70, met her father at Tufts. Though they eventually divorced, they were married in Goddard Chapel, as was Melling’s aunt, Regina Riley (Sarkozy), J68—who also met her husband, Lawrence Sarkozy, A66, on the Hill. The family tradition was kicked off by Meredith’s grandparents, Frances Gasser (Melling), who was a member of Jackson College Class of 1941 and George Melling, who graduated in 1940.

Melling says if any of her own children express an interest in applying to Tufts, she would be proud to have the legacy continue. For now, though, she’s thrilled just to see her father’s letter on a clothing item her daughter loves to wear: “He was so special to both of us, and I still miss him all the time. This helps us keep him close.”

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