Fathers and Heroes
When we’re children, all our fathers are heroes. Growing up may sully that estimation, but at a certain age we rediscover the truth in our early evaluation. For Father’s Day, we planned to fill Bay Weekly with stories of fathers we look up to, as citizens, sons and daughters, starting with our retiring senator, Paul Sarbanes.
We never imagined that intention would take us to Philip Merrill, publisher and chairman of Capital-Gazette newspapers.
Yet since the early evening hours of Saturday, June 10, he’s been the focus of our attention and with us all of Chesapeake Country.
We were enjoying that early evening from our boat slip in Towne Point Marina, on Rockhold Creek, when the first helicopter flew over. With small craft advisories and wind gusting to 30 knots, we’d chosen not to motor onto the Bay to see the conjunction of sunset and full moon rise. The conditions and the copter made us offer a prayer.
Next morning’s papers brought us the news already known to nighttime television watchers: Merrill’s 41-foot sailboat had been found, under sail, by two jetskiers down the Bay at Breezy Point. The 72-year-old newspaperman, diplomat, philanthropist and friend of the mighty was not on board.
The helicopter flights continued that night; next morning, a Coast Guard spotter plane flew low over the Bay, back and forth over 100 square miles from Annapolis to Chesapeake Beach.
By Monday night, Merrill was presumed drowned.
Among the many blessings of Chesapeake Country are fine newspapers. Reading them including the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun we’ve learned the triumphs of Merrill’s rich life.
But what matters most to us, as publishers of the 13-year-old weekly upstart in the territory of the 278-year-old Capital, we already knew. Evening after evening (and weekend mornings), we’ve had to measure ourselves by Merrill’s journalistic standard.
Reading The Capital is a daily lesson in the demographics, history and doings of Anne Arundel and Queen Anne’s counties.
Merrill’s big footprint should have intimidated us, but journalists are a competitive breed, convinced that the sun can hardly rise without their reporting it, so we took the best his well-funded and staffed paper could do as our challenge.
So Bay Weekly owes a special debt of thanks to Philip Merrill.
One more thing strikes us as we reflect on Merrill in the context of this Father’s Day issue: Like Sen. Paul Sarbanes, our featured father, Merrill was the son of an immigrant, a self-made man.
Amidst today’s rabid, xenophobic debate on immigration, that coincidence makes us remember that immigration can bring new blood that enriches America.