BLOOMINGTON — Davis U. Merwin, publisher of The Pantagraph from 1968 to 1980, was remembered Tuesday as a good friend to Illinois Wesleyan University, a “fine boss” and someone who left a trail of smiles wherever he went.
Merwin, 85, died Monday at his Bloomington home.
“I lost a good friend,” said IWU President Dick Wilson. “Dave and his wife were among those early on who welcomed us to Bloomington. He was very loyal and generous to Illinois Wesleyan.”
Merwin was an emeritus member of the IWU board of trustees, which he joined in 1970. In 1991, Merwin was one of three people presented with an honorary doctorate of law by former IWU President Minor Myers Jr. Wilson said one of the rooms on the top floor of the Ames Library is named after Merwin and another former board trustee, James Bates.
“Both were great friends of the university,” Wilson said.
Gene Smedley, Pantagraph managing editor from 1973 to 1982, said Merwin was a “fine boss” who was very supportive.
“He was never riding our backs; he was supportive when things got tough,” he said.
While Merwin was part of the family that owned and helped found The Pantagraph, Smedley said he didn’t walk into the paper as publisher. Instead, he started working on what was known as the “state desk,” taking obituaries over the phone.
His work in the newsroom gave him insight and brought an understanding of the operation, Smedley said.
Merwin worked in nearly every department before becoming publisher.
“He was a true gentleman’s gentleman,” said Bill Wills, former managing editor and editorial page editor. “He always greeted employees with a smile. He was an outstanding representative of The Pantagraph in the community.”
The family’s roots date back to 1800 and to Jesse Fell, who founded the town of Normal, Illinois State University and the two forerunners to The Pantagraph. Fell became sole owner of The Pantagraph in 1868. His son-in-law, William O. Davis, became publisher.
When Davis died in 1911, the paper was led by his son, H.O. Davis, who was followed by his nephews, Davis Merwin and Loring Merwin, and great-nephew Davis U. Merwin.
Davis U. Merwin’s son, Davis Fell Merwin, said Tuesday his dad was a “lover of adventure and people. He always liked to help others; he loved exploring. He always came home with new friends.
“He was a special guy. His enthusiasm for life was infectious.”
The younger Merwin said the most important thing to his father was being able to make a difference.
“His success made it possible for him to help others,” he said.
Besides his commitment to IWU, Merwin also was a great supporter of the arts. His late wife, Nancy, was three-time president of the McLean County Arts Center.
Merwin also was active in conservation efforts and was a director of Parklands Foundation, the Fell Foundation and the Merwin Foundation.
“His great loves were hunting and fishing,” said his son.