Obituary: Alan Merrill Greenleaf, 1945-2024 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Alan Merrill Greenleaf, 1945-2024

Northeast Kingdom farmer was rooted in the hills and woods of his land

Published June 25, 2024 at 6:00 a.m.
Updated June 25, 2024 at 12:59 p.m.

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Alan Greenleaf - COURTESY
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  • Alan Greenleaf

Alan Merrill Greenleaf died on June 15, 2024, with his daughters, Willa and Holly, by his side at Willa’s home, after a final stroke three months prior.

Born on April 13, 1945, he was a man of heart and dreams, and he realized them living on his back-road Vermont kingdom for most of his life, the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Greenwood.” He was a beloved songwriter, guitarist and singer; a small farmer of beef cattle, maple syrup, honey and hay; the father of two daughters who adore him, and he them; and a cherished friend. Truly one of a kind, gentle and genuine, with a real sense of humor, self-determined and fiercely independent — stubbornly so — he inspired many. He embraced an open mind, there to listen with a wise and humorous response. He was as humble as the cattle he herded but confident in the way he could speak his mind, unfiltered and unafraid to ruffle some feathers. He didn’t need to go far to be fulfilled and felt most everyone else was moving too fast.

Clever and crafty, he tinkered, fixed and figured things out and was most at home walking the hills and woods of his land. He was hilariously frugal, saving everything and reusing — or eating — most of it, too, but he knew when to live it up and loved to share a good diner meal or a barbecue in the backyard.

Throughout his life, he did things his own way, with his wry humor and a song to go with it. He had a way of making everyone feel at ease in his presence with his bright blue eyes, warm smile and readiness to chat. He was also a hermit who was hard to reach sometimes and loved his solitude and silence, content to be alone with the birds and wind in the trees and his cherished Chihuahua, Luna.

Magnetized by his presence, friends would often visit for chats around the kitchen table, where you might hear stories from his early days of farming, a rant on overpopulation or modern technologies, reflecting on the simple pleasures of life or his “misspent” childhood. He grew up in Wakefield, Mass., raised by his grandparents without his mother or father. He found solace in the patch of woods behind his house and family in his tight-knit group of friends, who remained close until the end. He found freedom in his motorcycle and records of blues and rock and roll.

In his twenties, he crisscrossed the Americas, adventuring in his VW bus while getting chemotherapy for a seemingly terminal cancer that he survived. He moved to a commune in Huntington, Mass., and built a cabin in the woods, where he lived with his wife, Susan. They worked in Vermont as farmhands on a horse-drawn sleigh sugaring operation. Soon after, they bought land and built a house in Peacham in the late ’70s, living off-grid as artist-farmers and eventually devoted parents, raising two daughters and living their dream, working the land, where he lived until the final months of his life.

A self-taught fingerpickin’ guitarist, he was a songwriter and storyteller of truth and emotion, never shying away from sharing the gritty hardships, humor, sadness and beauty of life as a backwoods farmer in the Northeast Kingdom. He pursued his music passionately and prolifically later in life, playing around the North Country with the “Doc.” There were many, many good years shared and some very hard ones, too, but he ultimately remained a gentle and spirited rock to us all, a natural man rooting so deeply into the land where he is now of the Earth, peaceful and free. He is survived by his daughters, Willa Greenleaf and Holly Greenleaf and her husband, John Murphy; his former wife, Susan Greenleaf; and his dog, Luna. Gratefully, he lives on in his music, the land and our hearts forever.

There will be a celebration of life at his farm on September 14, 2024, 3 p.m., with a potluck and open mic.

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