The man was always cool as a cucumber. And he was forever a gentle man, in every sense. The only way we knew he was feeling the pressure, like the rest of us, was when he lost his voice editing our annual Leading National Advertisers issue, which profiles the top 100 advertisers in the U.S.
Merle and his wife Melva were killed last month when they were hit by a car while crossing a street in Evanston, Ill. They had been on their way to pick up a cake for Melva's 85th birthday. Merle was 86. The driver of the car said she didn't see them.
Merle worked at our company for 40 years, as features editor of Ad Age and then as editor of American Collector, a monthly magazine we published in Reno, Nev. I remember flying out to Reno on several occasions to help Merle put the finishing touches on one of his issues. American Collector served collectors of items ranging from baseball cards to antiques, and Merle discussed collecting on local TV and radio talk shows. He once commented: "The collector has been likened to a pack rat, but I see him as a composite often combining the eye of an eagle with the bargaining acuity of a Persian rug dealer."
That was Merle. In his quiet way, he was a very smart and perceptive guy. As features editor of Ad Age, his aim was to publish material that concentrated not just on business subjects but, as he said, "on deepening admen's understanding of human nature and society." With that in mind, his features section included writings of anthropologist Margaret Mead, historian Arnold Toynbee, semanticist (and former U.S. Senator) S.I. Hayakawa, scholar-writer Leo Rasten and economist Kenneth Galbraith.
It's hard for me to believe Merle retired in 1988. I saw him last spring at a memorial service for Ilse Cermak, another of Ad Age's longtime editors, and I swear he looked just the same as ever.
Fred Danzig, our former editor, remembers Merle as "our go-to guy. Calm, quiet, tremendously competent, mild-mannered and reliable, he was an editor and manager who clearly enjoyed his work and helped the rest of us enjoy ours. ... What a sheer pleasure he was to work with."
And Larry Doherty, our former managing editor, described Merle as "always considerate and polite, but dogged in his determination to get the job done." Larry Edwards, another former managing editor who worked closely with Merle, noted that he was "such a refined man."
Merle and Melva were married for more than 60 years. In a Chicago Tribune obituary, a long-time personal friend described them as "inseparable. I couldn't imagine the one without the other. I used to worry if something ever happened to one what I would do to take care of the other. I think they were blessed in a way to be taken so quickly and together."
Merle Kingman was never one who craved the limelight. But in his own quiet, determined way, he made an awful lot of people feel loved and appreciated. That goes beyond his daughter and three sons and six grandchildren. That includes all of us here: his colleagues and friends at Ad Age, who will always remember and cherish his gentle touch.