News and analysis
February 06, 2011

No. 33: Edward H. and Vivian Merrin

Edward H. and Vivian Merrin with Tufts president, Larry Bacow (left).

Amount donated in 2010: $30.2-million

Beneficiary: Tufts University

Donors’ background: Mr. Merrin, an expert in pre-Colombian art and ancient antiquities, founded the Merrin Gallery, in New York, which specializes in Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities. He is also a private investor.

Mr. Merrin, 82, and his wife, Vivian, 79, pledged $30-million to Tufts University, in Medford, Mass., to establish a new scholarship fund. The university will receive the donation upon the donors’ deaths. Mr. Merrin graduated from Tufts in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1980 to 1991. The couple’s three sons, Mr. Merrin’s brother, and one of his cousins also graduated from the university.

The donors said they pledged the donation last year to commemorate Mr. Merrin’s 60th class reunion. Mr. Merrin said he also felt the time was right because the Tufts president, Lawrence S. Bacow, is stepping down this year. The couple was inspired by Mr. Bacow to make financial aid a philanthropic priority.

“Because this is a recession year, we thought we should step up and make a major gift and try to induce other people [of means] that now is the most important time to do so,” said Mr. Merrin.

The philanthropist said he and his wife originally planned to make their gift anonymously, but university officials convinced them to attach their name to the gift as a way to encourage other donors to give.

“The publicity is not something we enjoy,” said Mr. Merrin, who first learned about philanthropy as a child, when each week he took one penny out of his five-cent allowance and deposited it in the family’s “pushka,” a Yiddish term for a box kept in the home for charitable donations.

In addition to their large pledge, Mr. and Mrs. Merrin gave the university three donations last year, including $100,000 for Tufts Hillel, $25,000 for the university’s art gallery, and a $50,000 pledge for the previously established Merrin Term Scholarship. In 2005 the Merrins gave the university $3-million to endow a professorship in the humanities.

Mr. Merrin serves on the boards of the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged, the American Joint Distribution Committee and Lincoln Center Theater, all in New York. Mrs. Merrin also serves on the board of the distribution committee.

—Maria Di Mento

View more profiles of donors who gave the most in 2010.