Philip Merrill, the wealthy publisher of Washingtonian magazine and the Capital newspaper of Annapolis, Md., who disappeared during a solo sailing trip in Chesapeake Bay on Saturday, was declared presumed dead Monday, police said. Merrill was 72.
The 41-foot sailboat owned by the former NATO diplomat and philanthropist was discovered abandoned about 20 miles from his home. Police searched without success for his body.
Merrill was the first person in his family to attend college and became a self-made millionaire with his media holdings, which at one time included Baltimore magazine. He once described himself as an “old-fashioned 19th century entrepreneur” without a particular goal as a young man but with a singular wish to work for himself and no one else.
He was an aggressive and ambitious State Department intelligence analyst early in his career, but he detested bureaucracy and left government at age 34 to enter business. He borrowed money from friends and banks in 1968 to buy the Capital, a newspaper he described as barely profitable. “It cost several million, and I didn’t have $10,000 in cash,” he once said.
The Capital became a circulation success in Annapolis and by the late 1980s was reportedly worth at least $50 million.
Among his holdings, Washingtonian, which he purchased in 1979, brought him the most prestige. He often trumpeted the high income and education of its subscribers, saying the magazine was targeted at the “upper 10%" of the city’s wealthiest residents.
Philip Merrill Levine was born April 28, 1934, in Baltimore and grew up in New York City and Norwalk, Conn. His father, who worked in public relations, later encouraged his son to drop “Levine,” saying a Jewish surname could limit his career prospects.
At Cornell University, Merrill majored in government and was managing editor of the student newspaper. After graduation, Merrill served in the Army, worked at New Jersey newspapers, developed interview questions for Mike Wallace’s “Night Beat” TV program, had a brief stint with the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency and worked for the State Department.
Merrill took leaves of absence from his publishing business to serve Republican administrations.
He was counselor to the undersecretary of Defense for policy from 1981 to 1983; assistant secretary-general of NATO for defense support, the highest-ranking U.S. position in the Brussels-based treaty organization, from 1990 to 1992; and chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States from 2002 to 2005.
He also served on the Defense Policy Board, which advises the Defense Department, as well as on government panels negotiating matters concerning telecommunications and the law of the sea.
Merrill invested in commercial real estate and America’s Cup campaigns and became a philanthropist. In 2001, he gave $10 million to the University of Maryland journalism school, which was renamed in his honor.
He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Eleanor Pocius Merrill; three children; a sister; and four grandchildren.