The body of Philip Merrill ’55, noted publisher, philanthropist, statesman, and a former Managing Editor at the Sun, was discovered today by a boater shortly after noon. He had been missing since June 10, the day his empty sailboat was found by two people on personal watercraft.
Merrill was president and CEO of Capital-Gazette Communications, Inc., which published several newspapers and magazines, including The Washingtonian. He also had a distinguished career in public service, including serving as a member of the Defense Policy Board, and as the Assistant Secretary General of NATO. Recently, he had served as president of the Export-Import Bank from 2002 until 2005. In total, he had served under six presidential administrations.
In 1988, he received the Medal for Distinguished Service, the highest civilian award.
Gordon White ’55, a friend of Merrill’s, attributed his varied career to a wide-ranging “intellectual curiosity.”
“He was not a bleeding heart, if you will, but he was interested in a lot of things,” he said.
The Washington Post recounted a colleague recalling Merrill as “mercurial, brilliant … one of the grand terrors of Washington journalism.”
Dating back to his days at the Sun, he had high standards for his staff.
“He was tough,” White recounted. “He had a reputation as being very tough on editors.”
White remembered going to breakfast at 10 a.m. every day with Merrill in the Ivy Room, where the editor would take a red pencil to all errors, spelling, layout or otherwise.
“Quite often the paper would be entirely red when he was done with it,” White said. Once an editor, upon receiving a rather harsh reprimand, broke down into tears, leaving Merrill with a valuable lesson in softening his tone occasionally.
He had a personality that was impossible to ignore — several co-workers have recounted times when he would bang on desks or shout down the opposition. But his legacy in journalism extends far beyond the papers he ran. After a $10 million donation, the University of Maryland named its journalism program after him, and operated under his firm admonishment that “In a world that’s dominated in large measure by the communications revolution, sound journalistic values and capabilities are more important than ever.”
White said that, after serving as a trustee, Merrill’s relationship with Cornell soured a bit.
After setting strict instructions on what to do with a donation, his gift was spent “on what he considered ‘liberal baloney,'” White said.
Despite the rough patch, Cornell administrators praised Merrill for his generosity, recalling his creation of the “Merrill Presidential Scholars.” The program honors 36 seniors annually.
White said that Merrill was intense, and impatient, but generally in a good sense. If people didn’t peform, White said, “he gave them hell.”
But White also remembered, as many others did following Merrill’s dissappearence, that sailing was his great escape: “He enjoyed sailing, a chance to get away from everything for a while and to get out onto the bay.”
Merrill was also one of the few editors behind the infamous “Daily Orange” prank, in which a group of Sun editors surreptitiously replaced copies of the Syracuse University newspapers with a hoax issue.
Merrill leaves behind his wife Eleanor, and three children, Douglas Merrill ’89, Catherine Merrill Williams ’91 and Nancy Merrill ’96.