For a big piece of the 20th century, the Monitor was a regular and respected presence in Boston politics – first at city hall and then at the statehouse. That presence was George B. Merry, who passed away last Tuesday. George was hired on at the Monitor in 1948, and eventually became the dean of the Beacon Hill press corps. He was a knowing guide and mentor to young reporters both on the Monitor staff and off.
His local knowledge was encyclopedic. He loved to talk Boston politics – even in a newsroom where people were often savvier about the workings of the Kremlin or the Court of Saint James than the ways of Beacon Hill. But around this town, George was the guy people knew and liked. He has been a favorite of generations of statehouse reporters. Brad Knickerbocker, in reporting a story out West just a couple of years ago, encountered an industry press spokesperson who volunteered this memory:
“George B. Merry taught me so much, and yet he was kind, gentle, and not at all condescending, even to a kid just out of high school. As State House reporter [for a Worcester TV station], George was saving me on a near-daily basis then – I was absolutely in over my head! I cannot begin to count how many of his explanations and observations made their way into my scripts."
Brad himself wrote this note when he heard of George's passing:
"I learned everything I need to know about politics by covering Boston City Hall. And I learned everything I needed to know about covering Boston City Hall from George Merry, who I was blessed to sit next to in the Monitor newsroom."
The first thing you noticed about George was that he was so near-sighted that you wouldn’t think he could read his own oversized notes. But in fact he was a fast and efficient reporter who dealt in copious quantities of facts. And his reliability was near absolute. As local coverage became increasingly less important at the Monitor, George adapted by creating a specialty in state government roundups. He would take what he knew about Massachusetts and compare and contrast around all 50 states. He was a one-man national statehouse research department.
In honor of the Monitor's last print daily issue this past March, George wrote up this recollection of his career here:
"Being with the Monitor was like membership in a productive family working together, day by day, toward a better life for all mankind. Particularly important to me was the encouragement from colleagues and readers alike.
"A suggestion from Richard Strout of our Washington bureau quietly launched me into one of my most ambitious and productive adventures: a five-part series spotlighting how population imbalances inherent in most state legislatures dealt control to small segments of the electorate. Our in-depth exposure ignited lawsuits across the nation, ultimately resulting in the US Supreme Court’s historic 'one-man, one-vote' decision."
George retired in 1993. He continued to be devoted to this newspaper and stayed connected with people he knew in the newsroom. Up to his last cheerful Sunday, he attended the same church, in Hyde Park, that he grew up in.