News & Politics

I Grew Up in the Washingtonian Office. Now I’m Saying Goodbye to It.

Three Washingtonian staffers shared a special farewell before turning in the keys at the old place.

Looking forward: The author with her colleagues Ann and Samantha. All three spent time at Washingtonian as kids.

Coworkers don’t often share childhood memories, but three of us here at Washingtonian do—Samantha, Ann, and me. We each recall raiding the art department for crayons and magic markers. We each spun fast in office chairs. We each remember grabbing big slices of pizza at Sbarro in International Square. That’s because we grew up in the same place—sort of. Washingtonian is where our parents worked when we were kids.

Samantha Simmons’s mom spent 31 years as the company’s controller—Samantha literally came into the office the day before she was born. Ann Limpert’s dad was the magazine’s editor for four decades, and Ann began dropping by when she was a baby. My father was the owner and publisher for 28 years. I started coming in when I was nine.

Washingtonian occupied the same offices for the past 44 years—at the corner of 19th and L streets in downtown DC. In June, it was time to move on from the beloved but worn space, to a new suite a couple of blocks away. The memories came bubbling up.

“I remember hearing about my mom working late, and always because of the dead lion,” Samantha recalls. The dead lion? An old family joke. When she was little, she misheard “deadline.”

“I sometimes took a nap in Cathy’s dad’s office when he wasn’t around,” Ann remembers. “I’d also steal his cans of Tab diet soda.”

As for me, I recall Ann’s father’s office being really messy and thinking, ‘Wait, adults get to be messy?’ ”

We share a bond that’s hard to explain.

The last major update of the magazine’s offices was in the 1980s, so while dust, trinkets, and paper accumulated, there wasn’t a whole lot of change. And although all our parents left years ago—one deceased, two retired—we are still here.

Washingtonian is blessed to have employees who have hit 30- and 40-year milestones. They knew our parents, and they share many memories with the three of us. Lots of us can recall when 19th and L was a rather sleepy corner of town. The offices overlooked two surface parking lots. We bought albums at Kemp Mill Records across the street. Brooks Brothers moved in downstairs for a few years.

The nice thing about staying in one location for so long is that former employees tend to stop by. They feel at home—and they should. It has felt like home to us, too.

On the final day of the move, before I handed over the office keys, Samantha, Ann, and I met for one last farewell to the place where we’ve spent so much time. With delight, we discovered something we didn’t know: After the giant computer servers were removed from the room that housed them, we saw walls of the same pinkish color that the entire office was painted decades ago. Ancient file cabinets told us it had actually been a conference room. Something that predated even us!

But then we stood and recalled the magic markers, the chair-spinning, the booming voice (my father), the quiet voice (Ann’s dad) and the “we will get it done” voice (Samantha’s mom). We went off separately to the spaces our parents had occupied for so many years and reemerged with wet eyes.

Our new offices are beautiful, new, and clean. We’ll make more memories there.

This article appears in the August 2020 issue of Washingtonian.

CEO & President

Since 2006 Catherine Merrill has been the CEO and Owner of Washingtonian Media, a media company that includes the flagship 59-year-old, Washingtonian — the national capital region’s leading magazine with more than 400,000 readers and winner of five National Magazine Awards. She oversees the award-winning website, which garners over 3 million page views per month and provides the platform for Washingtonian\’s 650,000+ social media followers. Ms. Merrill also created Washingtonian Weddings, Washingtonian Welcome Guide; as well as launched Washingtonian Events which produces national award-winning events, and Washingtonian Custom Media, a content marketing agency. She is proud to be a certified women-owned small business.

From 2002 to 2007, Ms. Merrill served as Director of Operations for Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), where she helped manage and collect 60 percent of the nation’s tolls—$2.7 billion a year—including the majority of the E-ZPass network. Prior to joining ACS, from 1995 to 2002, she was a partner in the worldwide management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

Ms. Merrill is very active in the community and serves on the board of trustees of multiple organizations including the University of Maryland College Park (where she also chairs the Board of Visitors for the School of Journalism), Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences, the City and Regional Magazine Association, Ford’s Theater, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and The Merrill Family Foundation. She is on the Board of Advisors and is a founding member of the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation and sits on the National Advisory Council for the Trust for the National Mall. She is a member and former chapter chair of YPO (Young President’s Organization) as well as an active member in the Economics Club of Washington and the Federal City Council. She has appeared on CNN, the Today Show, CNN Headline News, FOX, MSNBC, as well as other local Washington stations.

She holds a B.A. from Cornell University and an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics.

Ms. Merrill resides in Washington, D.C. with her two sons. She enjoys sailing, skiing, and travel.