Merilyn graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in art history. An artist herself, Merilyn exercised those talents throughout her life. She enjoyed painting landscapes of scenes that captured her eye as she traveled about the world. She loved interior design and created unique spaces to share with others, from a coffee house in Tokyo to the headquarters for the American Foundation for the Study of Man (AFSM) in Washington, Virginia, as well as designing her homes in New York, Virginia and Florida.
In the early 1960s, Merilyn and Wendell paid a visit to a port of call of the USS Zelima to meet up with Wendell’s friend, Navy Captain Gordon Seymour Hodgson. Following that visit, Merilyn traveled to many foreign ports of call to visit Gordon whenever possible. They married in California on December 11, 1966, with Samuel F. Pryor of Pan Am Airways serving in her deceased father’s role in giving away the bride. Following a brief honeymoon in Switzerland, Merilyn and Gordon made their home in Falls Church, Virginia.
From her early youth, Merilyn was an avid sports fan and cheered on the professional teams in the San Francisco Bay area. Following her move to Virginia, she adopted the Washington Redskins and the Washington Bullets. She was an active tailgater in the Redskins home parking lot and travelled to away games to continue cheering on her beloved team. She also enjoyed her many friends at the home arenas of her favorite basketball team, the Washington Bullets, renamed Washington Wizards. She frequently shared her seats and converted many people into fans of all her teams while cheerfully engaging in the rivalry of each sport.
Throughout their marriage, Merilyn and Gordon enjoyed traveling and attended several Olympics series, including Lake Placid, Los Angeles, Sarajevo, Albertville, Atlanta and Lillehammer. As expected, Merilyn made lifelong friends in each hosting city.
The couple also enjoyed the sport of horse racing and owned several horses with winning records. This path led them to the purchase of rural land in Washington, Virginia, a farm that Merilyn named “Sunnywen” after her mother and brother. Young and retired horses, as well as a herd of beef cattle, called the farm their home. Merilyn enjoyed growing and selling flowers there and planted a vineyard. Grapes harvested at Sunnywen went on to produce an award-winning vintage.
By her side during most of her life was her longtime friend, Alina Andrea Ferreira. When a son, Tony, was born to Andrea and her husband, the child became Merilyn and Gordon’s Godson. Merilyn and Andrea were a powerhouse team until Andrea’s death in May of 2019. No words could describe the void Andrea’s death left in Merilyn’s life.
Merilyn reactivated the AFSM, an archaeological nonprofit founded by Wendell in 1949. Serving as its president, Merilyn carried on the important work of the foundation and it quickly became her passion. She conducted and participated in multiple active field seasons in Yemen, and greatly exceeded the work accomplished by her brother during his time at the site, most notably at the Mahram Bilqis/Awam Temple, where the AFSM maintains a concession to this day.
Merilyn loved the people and culture of Yemen and she was determined to share the country’s beauty and heritage with everyone. Merilyn facilitated many extensive tours, highlighting the artifacts discovered by the foundation in over 11 museums across Europe and ultimately in the U.S. During her on-site field expeditions, she gave talks to countless dignitaries, local schoolchildren and busloads of tourists. She also gave talks in the U.S., including speeches to the prestigious members of the Palm Beach Round Table in Florida and The Explorers Club in New York. As a Fellow National member of the Explorers Club, Merilyn carried their flag no. 86 into the field in 2006.
Although active field work was not allowed after that season of 2006, the AFSM team continued to study the uncovered material, resulting in numerous publications and presentations to the archaeological community of scholars. In 2013, on behalf of the AFSM, Merilyn gifted a large number of important artifacts discovered by Wendell and his team to the Smithsonian’s Freer/Sackler Gallery of Art, with the intention that they would carry forth educational opportunities afforded by such a unique collection through displays, tours and talks. It was Merilyn’s wish that the work of the AFSM would continue through her legacy, with the hope of fulfilling the dreams of the Phillips family. The wishes of this remarkable woman will be carried out.
Merilyn is survived by her cousins, Linda Wagner of Illinois, Noble Merley Philllips of New York, Joy Last of Virginia, and Niles Phillips of Pennsylvania; Godson, Tony Ferreira of Redmond, Washington; friend, Zaydoon Zaid of Falls Church, Virginia; stepchildren, Tim Hodgson of Santa Barbara, California and Tricia Hodgson and Tad Hodgson, both of La Jolla, California; her beloved cats, Qataban and Sheba; and many friends around the world.
An informal visitation for friends, admirers and associates of Merilyn will be held from noon to 4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 12 at Murphy Funeral Home, 4510 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22203. A light lunch will be served and sharing of stories encouraged. Burial will take place in Lafayette, Calif., at a later date where she will be interred in a family cemetery with her beloved family.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Foundation for the Study of Man, PO Box 2136, Falls Church, VA 22042.
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