- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Recovery crews yesterday continued searching for publisher and former diplomat Philip Merrill, who is presumed dead after his boat was found empty and adrift on the Chesapeake Bay last weekend.

After officials shifted from search-and-rescue efforts to recovery, saying it was unlikely he would have survived longer than 28 hours in the cold water, friends of Mr. Merrill yesterday reflected on his influence.

“Phil was one of those rare individuals who was good at everything he ever tried, and he made major contributions — public, business and philanthropic,” said Vice President Dick Cheney, one of Mr. Merrill’s closest friends.

Mr. Merrill, 72, was reported missing Saturday by his wife, and later that evening, his 41-foot sailboat, the Merrilly, was found near Breezy Point — about 25 miles south of Annapolis in Calvert County.

Natural Resources Police (NRP) yesterday continued to search near the Bay Bridge using six police boats and a helicopter. Members of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, where Mr. Merrill was a board member and honorary trustee, used their own boats to help.

“We are going to do everything we can to bring closure,” said Col. Mark S. Chaney, superintendent of the NRP. “I can’t say it will take two days, two weeks or two months.”

Col. Chaney said he does not think that Mr. Merrill was a victim of foul play, but instead that he likely fell overboard because his wallet was still on the boat and there was no damage to the vessel.

Mr. Merrill, an experienced sailor, has been known in journalism circles as the publisher of the Annapolis Capital newspaper and Washingtonian magazine. His holdings also included five other Maryland newspapers — a publishing enterprise with a circulation of about 300,000.

In a statement yesterday, the vice president said Mr. Merrill’s apparent death was a “tragic loss” for the country.

“His dedication to the nation and his devotion to his family were an inspiration to all of us who were privileged to know him,” said Mr. Cheney, who attended a party hosted by Mr. Merrill a week before his disappearance.

Mr. Cheney’s wife, Lynne, worked at Washingtonian as an editor from 1983 to 1986.

Mr. Merrill’s colleagues — many of whom also considered themselves his friends — described him as a bulldog who was able to guide his journalism empire without becoming too meddlesome in its affairs.

“There was never a question that what he was saying was right,” said Tom Marquardt, executive editor of the Annapolis Capital who had worked with Mr. Merrill since 1977. “His criticisms were almost always on the mark. You may not like the delivery, but you couldn’t dispute the facts.”

Leslie Milk, lifestyle editor at Washingtonian who knew Mr. Merrill for more than 20 years, said he was a devoted father who loved spending time with his children.

“Most people in Washington have walls filled with pictures of them and famous people,” she said.

“He has walls filled with him and his kids sailing and skiing. He spent a lot of time with his family.”

In 2001, Mr. Merrill made a $10 million donation to the University of Maryland and the College of Journalism, which is now named in his honor. His name also graces the headquarters of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“It’s fair to say there are probably scores of journalists working today because Phil Merrill stepped in and funded their education,” said Steve Crane, assistant dean of the journalism school.

Mr. Merrill took time off from publishing in December 2002, when he was sworn in by Mr. Cheney as president and chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. He also served as assistant secretary-general of NATO in Brussels, on the Department of Defense Policy Board and as counselor to the undersecretary of defense for policy.

The Merrill family has established a Web log for those wishing to share memories of Mr. Merrill. Anyone wishing to contribute can send entries to merrillblog@capitalgazette.com.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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