Visionaries: Paul Merrill

Paul Merrill

Endowed with a radiant smile, Paul Merrill was a fashion model who found his calling as a realtor selling the homes of Hollywood stars. He was also a dedicated philanthropist whose generous bequest to amfAR spoke of his commitment to helping people living with HIV.

Born in 1935 in Toledo, Ohio, Mr. Merrill was the youngest child in a family with three older sisters. He went on to make his longtime home in Los Angeles, California, where careers in modeling and later in real estate both flourished. He is remembered by friends as a handsome man about town who used his disarming memory for names and funny stories to charm everyone he met.

Mr. Merrill lived for simple pleasures but also appreciated evenings out on the town. He was on a first-name basis with maître d’s at the finest restaurants across LA and could get a table for a meeting with high-end real estate clients at a moment’s notice.

“Think you can get into Spago?” his close friend David Verdery recalls asking him. “They usually have a two-month waiting list.” Mr. Merrill smiled and picked up the phone. That very evening the two friends dined out at the famed Beverly Hills hotspot.

They once scored a pair of tickets to see Barbra Streisand in what was to be the legendary singer’s highly anticipated return to performing. She did not disappoint. “Seeing Barbra Streisand singing with an orchestra conducted by her friend Marvin Hamlisch was spectacular,” recalls Mr. Verdery. “It was bone-chilling.”

“I’ve pledged my life to trying to help others live long enough to get a cure.”

But challenging times lay ahead for Mr. Merrill. In 1995 he tested positive for HIV. Through friends connected with amfAR, he was referred to an excellent physician in Palm Springs, where he had moved to slow down. Thanks to good medical care and antiretroviral treatment, he was able to lead a mostly healthy life for another 24 years.

Over the years, Mr. Merrill had the opportunity to attend amfAR galas, where he heard Elizabeth Taylor speak. “She was very inspiring,” recalls Mr. Verdery. “I would give her most of the credit for getting the government motivated to do something about AIDS. And if you had a chance to hear her talk, you would have chosen her as a recipient of financial donations.”

“I’ve been very successful in maintaining my health,” Mr. Merrill once told Mr. Verdery. “And I’ve pledged my life to trying to help others live long enough to get a cure.”

Mr. Merrill’s generosity will help amfAR continue to fund the most promising research that will move us toward an HIV cure and fulfill his wish.

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