WESTFIELD, NJ — The Westfield school community is mourning the loss of Patricia “Trish” Merlo, a first-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, who died Monday.

She was 53 years old.

“Patricia Merlo meant the world to all who knew her,” fellow Jefferson School teacher Anna Carissimo wrote on a GoFundMe page she organized to support the Merlo family. “She was a loving wife to her husband, Brian. She was a caring daughter and sister whose family meant the world to her.”

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Carissimo noted Merlo’s impacts as an educator and a friend.

“Tricia was a dedicated and nurturing first-grade teacher, an irreplaceable part of her school community,” she wrote. “She was an honest, generous and loyal friend.”

Merlo was also a devoted mother.

“By far, Tricia’s greatest blessing was being an amazing mom to her dearest daughter, Catharine,” Carissimo wrote. “Catharine, 12 years old, is a beautifully talented dancer. Nothing made Tricia happier than seeing Catharine dance and supporting her ‘dance family.’ Catharine also aspires to become a teacher because she has seen first-hand the impact her mother has had on the lives of so many children and their families.”

The GoFundMe campaign is raising monies for Catharine Merlo’s college fund, has raised $20,407 of its $40,000 goal as of this writing.

Merlo was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer over the summer and died just one month after her diagnosis, Carissimo wrote.

Merlo was born March 17, 1967, in Summit and later moved to Aberdeen, according to her obituary. She taught at the elementary level for 31 years, 21 of which she spent teaching first grade in Westfield, the obituary says.

Merlo’s daughter Catharine called Merlo the “best mom ever.”

“She played such a big role in my life, and she will never be forgotten,” Catharine Merlo wrote in the obituary. “She was so well loved! She always had a life lesson and gave the best advice! I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without her!”

School officials in Westfield this week reacted to Merlo’s passing.

“Trish was the first-grade teacher you would want your child to have,” said Superintendent Margaret Dolan at Tuesday’s school board meeting, highlighting her skills in the classroom. “She was a skilled educator. She also totally understood 6-year-olds. She knew all the different types of personalities, and she was able to work with all those personalities.”

“We certainly give our condolences to her husband and her daughter. Actually, we give condolences to the entire Jefferson community, because she was a very important part of that school,” Dolan added. “She certainly will be remembered for many years and for all the lives she’s touched, and again, our condolences to her family.”

Board President Peggy Oster also offered her condolences.

“That is a true loss to our community, and I do wish her family and the family of Jefferson the best in the coming weeks as we move forward,” Oster said.

Board member Gretchan Ohlig remembered Merlo fondly as the teacher of one of her children at Jefferson School.

“I was lucky enough to have one of my children have Trish Merlo,” Ohlig said. “So, it is a huge loss, and my condolences to her family. Everybody is just heartbroken at Jefferson, I know.”

Those interested in donating to the GoFundMe campaign may do so at this link.

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