John Merrill was in journalism and journalism education for 64 years. A native of Cleveland, he served four years in the Navy during World War II, in both the
Atlantic and Pacific.
He grew up in Cleveland, where he worked briefly for a weekly paper while in high school and for Hodding Carter’s "Delta Democrat Times" in neighboring Greenville.
After the war he married Dorothy Lee Jefferson of nearby Inverness, got his B.A. and M.A. degrees at Delta State College and LSU, and was wire editor in 1949-50 of the "Clarion-Ledger" in Jackson, Mississippi.
His main teaching career was at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Prior to going there in 1964, he taught and did public relations at Northwestern State College in Natchitoches, La. While there he received a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Iowa.
Leaving Northwestern, he was for two years a professor at Texas A & M University. From 1964-1980 he was a professor at Missouri while his wife, Dorothy, was registrar and assistant dean at Stephens College in Columbia. In 1971 he received an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Missouri.
In 1980 he became a professor at the University of Maryland, leaving there after one year to become director of the School of Journalism at Louisiana State University. After a three-year stint, he gave up the directorship and went back to the classroom. He and his wife (she was assistant dean, College of Arts and Sciences) retired from LSU in 1990 and moved back to Columbia, Mo. He continued teaching part-time until 2000 when he received the Wee Kim Wee Professorship at Nanyang University in Singapore.
Returning to the U.S. in 2001 he taught two terms at Elon University in North Carolina and held the Parks Professorship at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill for one year.
In 2004-05 he was visiting professor at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. In 2005-2007 he held the Erbon Wise Professorship at Northwestern State University in Louisiana, where he began his teaching career back in 1951.
Dr. Merrill taught, lectured, and conducted workshops in over 50 countries, and wrote and edited some 35 books in his career. His best-known books are "The Imperative of Freedom," "The Dialectic in Journalism," "Legacy of Wisdom," and "Media Debates" (with Everette Dennis). His most recent books (since 2007) are "Media, Mission, and Morality," "Call to Order: Plato’s Legacy of Social Control," and "The Coming Media Demise: Can Journalism Schools Survive?" (with Ralph Lowenstein).
He taught for at least a semester at the following universities other than those mentioned above: National Chengchi University (Taiwan); California State University, Long Beach; the University of Virginia; and the University of Miami (Florida).
Dr. Merrill received many honors and distinguished professorships. Perhaps his highest honors were the Honor Medal for Distinguished Service to Journalism (University of Missouri); Distinguished Service Award (SDX-SPJ) for a book with Ralph Lowenstein, "Media, Messages and Men;" and the campus-wide Award for Research from Louisiana State University.
In addition to his books, Dr. Merrill has written more than 150 journal and magazine articles.
He is survived by Dorothy, to whom he was married for 64 years; and five children, Charles, who is studying for the Catholic priesthood at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome; Judy Vaporean of Birmingham, Ala.; Linda Merrill of Atlanta, Ga.; Jon G. Merrill of Houston, Texas; and Deborah Kennedy of Waverly, Mo.; nine grandchildren, Jack and Susanna Merrill of Frederick, Md., Brett Merrill of New York City and Erin Merrill Davis of Birmingham, Timothy and Peter Merrill of Atlanta, Dorothy Lanahan and Leah Merrill of Arlington, Va., and Haley Merrill Rohr of Columbia, Mo.; three great-grandchildren, Quinn and Nash Davis of Birmingham, and Annette Lanahan of Arlington.
In lieu of flowers, persons wishing to honor Dr. Merrill may send a contribution to Delta State University to The John C. Merrill Lectureship in Journalism or The John Merrill Journalism Award, Delta State University Foundation, DSU Box 3141 Cleveland, MS 38733. Online gifts may also be made at www.deltastategiving.org/Fund/Give/1.