Philip Merrill '55, publisher, statesman, philanthropist, is presumed dead in sailing accident

G. Nick Lundskow
hilip Merrill

Cornell benefactor Philip Merrill '55, international statesman and adviser to U.S. and Cornell presidents, is missing and presumed dead after disappearing Saturday, June 10, during a solitary sail on Chesapeake Bay. A search for his body by Maryland Natural Resources Police is under way.

"Phil's long-standing connection to the university in his many roles ... have made him an invaluable adviser and supporter of Cornell," President Hunter R. Rawlings and Chairman of the Cornell Board of Trustees Peter Meinig said in a joint statement issued June 15. "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."

A Cornell trustee, he created the Merrill Presidential Scholars program, which recognizes 36 exceptional seniors annually and honors the professors and teachers who inspired them. In 2003, Cornell's Board of Trustees also appointed 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 the 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. State Department 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.

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Blaine Friedlander