Wednesday, March 31, 2010
JERRY MARSHALL 1943-2008 R.I.P.
Originally written 06/27/2008
One of the best men I have ever known in my life passed away quietly on Saturday afternoon in Lansing, Michigan. He was Gerald R. "Jerry" Marshall, the long-time renowned public address announcer for Michigan State University ice hockey and baseball, and a good friend of mine since I first got out there in the fall of 1994.
"Chief" was the guy I always talked to on MSU Spartan Hockey home game nights for two seasons at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, when I was interning in the Spartan athletic department as the hockey publicity contact. A phone line ran from the Munn press box (me) down to the scorer's table (him), where we'd exchange information along the lines of penalties, out-of-town scores, promotions, time-outs and other game goings-on. I also got to know him outside the rink and discover what a great person he was, as well as one of the staunchest allies and supporters both Michigan State and Spartan Athletics has ever had.
Jerry always had a great wit, as he'd often pick up his extension during games and answer with "Jose's Bar & Grill," which still makes me smile a decade-and-a-half later. He was a fixture as the radio host of the "The Ron Mason Show", the MSU hockey coach's program on Wednesday winter nights, whether they were held at the now-departed Sneeker's or the still-going Reno's East. Those were some of the most fun times I've ever had in my life, even after I had moved on from MSU, and Jerry never failed to mention me or thank me for my assistance on providing him with stats and other information even though I ranked just above a student assistant in the athletic department hierarchy.
I also worked with Jerry during the 1995 Spartan baseball season in a derelict old mobile trailer at Kobs Field, and his warmth and humor were no less engaging then they had been at hockey. In fact, the hockey rink was probably warmer than that trailer, which thankfully never fell down and is now being replaced, although the new press box will never have known Jerry's voice.
We still kept in touch after I left State and moved on, including two more stints that I spent in Michigan although outside the Lansing area. He even made it a point to announce my presence to the MSU Blue Line Club hockey booster crowd in 1999 when I attended their pre-game luncheon before that year's Spartan Hockey Senior Night. I actually flew to Michigan from New Jersey on my own dime because my last group of players from three years earlier was graduating, and I thought it was important to be there for them. Senior Night at Michigan State is an art form in itself of how to say goodbye to your senior student-athletes, and a lot of that had to do with Jerry and his PA recap of each player's Spartan Hockey career, before they took a final solo swing around the Munn ice surface to the sterling strains of the MSU Fight Song.
Jerry was doing well when I next saw him in the summer of 2002, but he suffered a debilitating stroke in the last couple of years that severely impacted his health. I saw him for the last time when I visited in September, just my second visit to the Spartan State in the eight years since I moved back east. He had to get around with a cane, and he tired easily, but his wit and humanity were both still intact, and it was good to reminisce with him, even for just a few hours.
It was a bittersweet reunion, and as I hugged him good-bye as I left the farm that evening, this dreadful feeling welled up inside me that it would be the final time I would see him in this life. Sadly, it was, as he suffered another stroke soon after that took him away from his beloved PA and radio show duties and silenced his golden voice altogether. His last appearance at the scorer's table in Munn was that October night when MSU raised its 2007 NCAA Hockey Championship banner to the arena rafters for all time.
I don't care as completely now that State's victory that spring came against my alma mater, Boston College, because I'm glad that Jerry got to see a white-and-green national title banner go up one last time. No disrespect to the men who have called MSU games on radio and TV over the years, but Jerry was THE voice of Spartan Hockey for more than three decades. His successor has a very tough act to follow, and I don't envy him.
I feel guilty and even numb for not having known sooner that Jerry had passed, having just found out today on the Internet. I feel guilty and numb for not having attended his wake or his funeral, money and distance notwithstanding. And I especially feel guilty and numb for not having picked up a phone in recent weeks to speak to his wife just to see how they were doing. I knew I should have, but I didn't make the time because I always thought "tomorrow", and now it's something I'm going to have to live with. I do take some solace in the fact that, although he is gone, he is no longer suffering.
Now I will honor him in any way I can. Of course he will be in my prayers, as will his wife, Marty, and his family. I'll make a donation in his name to the Ralph Young Fund, the fundraising arm of MSU Athletics. I'll tell people both verbally and in writing what a privilege it was to have known him. I will think of him every time I hear the MSU Fight Song.
And even though I'm sad and depressed and have a migraine as I type this, I am going to pickup hockey tonight and will do my damnedest to score a goal for him while adorned in Michigan State Spartan green and white, even if I break a bone or two in crashing the net looking for a loose puck. It won't fill all the hurt I feel inside, but it's the least I can do in his memory. (Scoring goals, not breaking bones, although that would be OK, too.)
Lastly, I remember when my folks came out to visit me in Michigan in the summer of 1997 and met Jerry at his Sears office at the Frandor shopping center in Lansing. He welcomed them warmly, told them it was a pleasure to meet them, and ultimately related to them that I was like a favorite nephew to him. Well, Jerry, you were like a favorite uncle to me, and my life was much better for having had you in it the past 14 years. Michigan State will not be the same place without you, whether at Munn or anywhere else.
Thank you for all that you did, and especially all that you did for me. You were truly one-of-a-kind, and I am truly thankful to have known you and been your friend.
God bless, Chief, and rest in peace.