In Memoriam

Ken Marshall

Winter 2019 - In Memoriam - Ken Marshall

At Ken Marshall’s memorial service, his daughter told the story of how she became ill while on a student program in Africa. “My father,” Marilyn Marshall-Goetz said, “came to Africa to bring me home.”

I remember that day. Stunned by the rapidity of his preparations for departure, I sat in my office across the hall from his and marveled at the devotion that propelled him to a destination halfway around the world to retrieve a sick child. A father myself, I hope I would have done the same, but it still astonishes me.

Ken Marshall, then chair of the English department, recruited me 55 years ago to come here from a small college in Missouri, where I was teaching and struggling to complete my doctorate. I was reluctant to come for an interview, insisting that I was sure I wouldn’t accept even if offered the job. Ken said, “We’re willing to take that risk.” I wasn’t that much of a catch, but I’m sure he knew Denison would sell itself successfully, as it did.

Having bought me, I think he decided to make something worthwhile of his investment (meager though it was), for he became a life-long mentor and friend. He persuaded me to apply for a Danforth Grant that would give me time to write my dissertation and shepherded me through the application process; he groomed me to replace him as department chair and to take over his fabled January term trips to London; he taught me London block by block; he failed only in his effort to win me to a love of classical music. On a short break in one of our January term courses, he introduced me to Paris: the parks, the museums, the bistros—even the Folies Bergère.

Although remarkably even tempered, Ken was capable of biting sarcasm. At a bridge game where we played after retirement, I heard him mutter about another player’s complaint, “If that one finesse would have worked, I would have made the bid.” “Yes, and if I weren’t so old, I’d be young,” Ken responded. But he could take a cutting remark directed at him with good humor.

He chaired the large English Department for many years. More servant than master, he kept peace among his colleagues, guided us in the selection of new faculty, nurtured newcomers, and found schedules for us that met our preferences—and I never heard him utter an unpleasant word.

Ken would have enjoyed his memorial service—so many beautiful moments. And then there was daughter Marilyn’s sweet account of him  rescuing her in Africa. “Today, I have come,” she concluded, “though a much shorter distance, to bring him home.”

Preceded in death by his wife, Barbara; he is survived by her sons, David Marshall ’79 and Richard Marshall, daughter, Marilyn Marshall-Goetz, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. 

—Tommy Burkett

Published December 2018