John E. Merow, Former Head of Sullivan & Cromwell, Dies at 89

John E. Merow, Former Head of Sullivan & Cromwell, Dies at 89

Mr. Merow stepped down as chairman in 1994.

He was born on Dec. 20, 1919, in Little Valley, N.Y., southwest of Buffalo, the son of Luin and Mildred Merow. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1952 and served on a destroyer as a lieutenant in the Navy in the Korean War before going to Harvard Law School, where he met Mary Alyce Smith, who was working on the staff of The Harvard Law Review.

They were married in 1957. Mr. Merow joined Sullivan & Cromwell after he received his law degree.

Ms. Lisagor said Mr. Merow had loosened policies and practices at the firm. But the traditions of lawyerly etiquette and camaraderie prevailed, at least in public. After The American Lawyer quoted Mr. Merow as saying of rival firms, “We really don’t think that, all in all, Cravath or Davis Polk has quite the range of strengths we do,” he felt obliged to apologize to his counterparts — Samuel Butler at Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Henry King at Davis Polk & Wardwell.

Mary Alyce Smith was born in Brooklyn on May 6, 1933, the daughter of Carl and Velma Smith. She graduated from Smith College and taught for a year in the Oklahoma City public schools before taking the law review job. After the couple moved to New York, she worked as an assistant to a partner at an executive recruiting firm.

For more than 40 years, Ms. Merow recorded books as a volunteer for Recording for the Blind, which is now called Learning Ally, a nonprofit educational organization that has expanded to help children with learning disabilities as well as the blind. She mostly recorded general-interest textbooks. She stopped about a year ago because she had glaucoma and was herself having trouble reading, the president of Learning Ally, Andrew Friedman, said.

The Merows are survived by a daughter, Alison, and two grandchildren. Another daughter, Ellen, died some years ago.

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