The body of Cornell trustee and benefactor Philip Merrill '55, international statesman and adviser to U.S. and Cornell presidents, has been recovered in the Chesapeake Bay; his family said his death was "in all likelihood the result of his own efforts to take his life." Merrill had been presumed dead after disappearing Saturday, June 10, during a solitary sail on the bay.
His family issued a statement to the Baltimore Sun on June 20.
"Phil lived his life openly and honestly. In this spirit, particularly out of respect for friends and colleagues, we feel his last actions must be understood for what they were," the statement read. "Phil underwent significant heart surgery over a year ago and was on several medications as a result of it. Over the past four weeks, we observed that his spirit had dimmed. We spoke to him and consulted his physician about it. He was fatigued and unmotivated, a clear departure from his lifelong optimistic outlook and irrepressible spirit."
The statement concluded, "Everyone who knew Phil had no doubt that he loved life and lived it to the fullest. We ask everyone to remember him as we will -- for the first amazing 71 years of his life."
President Hunter R. Rawlings and Chairman of the Cornell Board of Trustees Peter Meinig said in a joint statement issued June 15: "Phil's long-standing connection to the university in his many roles ... have made him an invaluable adviser and supporter of Cornell. With Phil's loss, Cornell University mourns more than a benefactor; he was also a creative and giving friend. ... Phil will be sorely missed throughout the Cornell community."
He created the Merrill Presidential Scholars program, which recognizes 36 exceptional seniors annually and honors the professors and teachers who inspired them. In 2003, the board of trustees also named Merrill a presidential councillor, citing his "diligence, farsightedness and spirited resolve to keeping Cornell a great university."
Merrill was president and CEO of Capital-Gazette Communications Inc., established in 1727, the publisher of the Washingtonian magazine, the Capital and several other Maryland newspapers. It also operates Capital Investment Co.
From 1990 to 1992, he served as assistant secretary-general of NATO for defense support. He also held positions in the Pentagon, the U.S. Department of State and the White House. In 1988 Merrill received the Medal for Distinguished Service, the highest civilian honor awarded by the U.S. Department of Defense.
In 2002 Merrill was sworn in by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney as president and chairman of the Export-Import Bank, a post Merrill held until 2005.
"The apparent death of Phil Merrill is a tragic loss for the nation," wrote Cheney on a blog published by the Capital. "Phil was one of those rare individuals who was good at everything he ever tried, and he made major contributions -- public, business and philanthropic. His dedication to the nation and his devotion to his family were an inspiration to all of us who were privileged to know him."
Merrill was born in Baltimore in 1934 and grew up in Manhattan and Connecticut. He graduated from Cornell in 1955, where he served as editor of the Cornell Daily Sun, and later graduated from Harvard Business School's Program for Management Development.
Merrill was a benefactor to the University of Maryland's College of Journalism, which bears his name. He also created the Center for Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University and served as a trustee and major donor of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Aspen Institute and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Merrill is survived by his wife, Eleanor, and three children, all Cornellians: Douglas '89, MBA '91, Catherine Merrill Williams '91 and Nancy Merrill '96.