Esteemed indexer and former ASI President Kate Mertes

Esteemed indexer and former ASI President Kate Mertes has died. Indexing colleague and long-time friend Enid Zafran reflects on Kate's life and accomplishments.

At age 68, Kate (Robin) Mertes suffered a sudden heart attack at her home. She had two weeks earlier received a kidney transplant and was recovering well from the surgery; she was looking forward to getting back to her indexing soon. She died on November 28, 2023, at a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia.

Kate held a BA from Mount Holyoke College and PhD (1981) in medieval history from Edinburgh University, Scotland. At Blackfriars College, Oxford University, she taught classes in medieval church history and Thomism. Her publishing career started at Oxford University Press in Oxford, England, where she worked on the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. When she returned to the U.S. in 1990, she joined Thomson Professional Publishing, first at their New Jersey offices and then at their offices in Virginia where she worked as a senior indexer. She stayed there until 1999, when she left to work full-time in her business Mertes Editorial Services which she had started in 1993.

Kate’s contribution to the field of indexing was profound, as she wrote and spoke extensively on the business and philosophy of indexing. She served twice as president of the American Society for Indexing (ASI), 2002 and 2009, and was on the ASI Board of Directors for nine years. In 2014, ASI acknowledged her work on behalf of the indexing profession by bestowing on her the Hines Award for long-term service.

Kate Mertes, with her publisher, receives the 2015 ASI/EIS Publishing Award for Excellence in Indexing.

One of the most outstanding and renowned indexers of the last 25 years, Kate twice won the ASI/EIS Award for Excellence in Indexing: first, in 2013, for her index to Montesquieu’s Les Pensées (Liberty Fund). and second, in 2015, for her index to The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, volume 3 (Church Historian’s Press). Her clients included Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, World Bank, Liberty Fund, Art Institute of Chicago, Dumbarton Oaks/Harvard University Press, The Canon Law Society of America, Stanford, Cornell, and many other publishing houses and individual authors.

In addition to the many articles that she contributed to ASI publications, her dissertation was published: Good Governance and Politic Rule: The Noble Household in England, 1250-1550. She was on occasion contacted by television and movie companies who had her consult on their furnishings, clothing, etc., for productions set in the Middle Ages.

Enid Zafran presents the Hines Award to Kate Mertes, the 2014 winner.

She spoke on indexing at ASI local and national conferences as well as at the national conferences of the Indexing Society of Canada (ISC/SCI) and the Special Libraries Association. Many indexers will recall attending in person or playing the video of Kate’s talk, "NASCAR Indexing: Creating and Maintaining Speed", in which she described how she set up a job and found shortcuts to the indexing process. If you ever saw Kate at work, her speed was truly astounding!

Her wit and ease with telling a good story made her presentations both educational and entertaining. To all who knew her as an indexer, she will be remembered for her generous spirit in sharing her knowledge and uplifting the profession.

The American Society for Indexing would like to thank Enid Zafran for sharing the details of Kate's life and work. She will be remembered as an icon of indexing.

Photos by Gwen Henson

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