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obituary
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John Merrill spacee John Merrill

Architect John O. Merrill Jr. died after an illness April 25 at his Tiburon home. He was 90 years old.

Mr. Merrill was the son of the founder of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, one of the largest architecture and urban planning firms in the world.
Born in Evanston, Ill., he moved St. Paul, Minn., with his family at age 3. He graduated from St. Paul's Central High School and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin. He then moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a bachelor's degree in architecture and served on its visiting committee.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet in 1942 and flew B-25s and B-26 Marauder aircraft in World War II. While leading a dangerous three-ship mission near the Rhine River in Germany, his bomber was hit by enemy fire and shot down. He and his crew bailed out and landed in the town of Andernach. He spent the rest of the war as a prisoner until liberated by Gen. George S. Patton in April 1945.

Mr. Merrill served in the U.S. Air Corps Reserve — later the U.S. Air Force Reserve — as a captain until 1954. His awards for service included the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak-leaf clusters. In 2011, the German consul-general in San Francisco held a reception to honor Mr. Merrill.

He began his career with his father's firm in 1949 and rose through the ranks. Mr. Merrill eventually became the partner in charge of many of his firm's design projects. He worked directly with Laurence Rockefeller on the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel commission in Hawaii. He oversaw dozens of recognizable Bay Area and Pacific Northwest corporate projects including the Crown-Zellerbach, Alcoa and Bank of America buildings and Crocker Galleria in San Francisco; Oakland's stadium and coliseum; Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall; and the Weyerhaeuser corporate headquarters in Federal Way, Wash. He was elected a partner in the firm in 1957 and served as a senior managing partner until his retirement in 1989.

He worked internationally in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia, Russia and France, among other countries. He served as president of the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1976 and was named a fellow of the institute in 1980.

He was instrumental in achieving AIA San Francisco's affirmative action plan for women. As chairman of the San Francisco Art Institute board of trustees, he instituted student and faculty reforms and undertook fundraising efforts that saved the school in the 1970s. Mr. Merrill served on the boards of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Bay Area Council and Mount Tamalpais School.

Mr. Merrill was an avid bay and ocean sailor. A former rear commodore of the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, he enjoyed racing with his sons, John III and Charlie, and completed the storied Transpacific Yacht Race between San Pedro and Diamond Head, Hawaii, in 1979. He also enjoyed socializing at the San Francisco Yacht Club.

In addition to his sons from a previous marriage, John O. Merrill III of San Rafael and Charles Merrill of Mill Valley, Mr. Merrill is survived by his wife of 36 years, Elizabeth Merrill of Tiburon, and their daughter, Ross Batt of Novato; four daughters from his previous marriage to Margaret Feld of Mill Valley: Alison Doughty of Novato, Jennifer Martin of Mill Valley, Lindsey Kauffman of Stockton and Katherine Alvarez of Petaluma; nine grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins. His sisters, Elisabeth Reid and Jean Norton, predeceased him.
A celebration of Mr. Merrill's life will be held on June 25. For more information, send an email to jomtribute@gmail.com.

Donations in his memory may be made to the SOM Foundation, Attn: Executive Director Nancy Abshire, 224 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60604; or Hospice by the Bay, 17 E. Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Larkspur, CA 94904.

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