John Marsch 1948-2006

by Michaeleen Howatt-Nab

JohnMarsh300_big.jpgDoes one become charismatic, magnetic,
and a true life force, or is one born with it? Does it develop
throughout time as the result of experience, or is it created from
within? In John Marsch’s case, I always wondered since our
friendship was only formed in the last seven or eight years. What a
gift it was to learn more about him from those family members and
friends who joined the private memorial service for him at his
beautiful home on May 22. Together, they painted a beautiful
picture of his extraordinary life. The setting was Montjoie, the
historic house that John restored into an “opulently cozy home” and
believed he was only stewarding on behalf of the community. Among
the many events John hosted, it was the most poignant and saddest
of all days. But I get ahead of myself. To fully appreciate this
day, I’d like to share some of his history.

My first impression of John was a tall, friendly farm boy, which
he didn’t find too amusing since he felt his image was more akin to
James Bond. As our friendship grew during the years, I realized my
intuition was accurate.

John grew up in Ohio farm country with humble beginnings. He
lost his father when he was only a child and later lost his older
brother Jim, whom he adored, to the heart disease that has haunted
the Marsch men. John always took great pride in the fact that he
stayed consciously healthy, and was one of the longest living
Marsch men in his lineage. It is one of the reasons he approached
each day as a gift — determined to make it a good one and to learn
something new. He often challenged his friends and loved ones to do
the same. In accepting this challenge, we can honor his life.

John became the father figure for his late older brother’s five
children while he was in his early twenties. He and his beautiful
wife Kathy added their twin daughters Melissa and Michelle to the
brood to make it seven children, whom John was delighted to have in
his life at the ripe old age of 25. It was his most important role
and he took it very seriously. He was devoted to his growing
extended family, known as “Marsch Magic.” I often teased him by
calling him Papa Walton, especially when he was trying to pull off
a James Bond moment.

Hearing memories from John’s family and friends — from his
childhood best friend to the doctor who cared for him in this last
year — helped to reinforce my hunch that his “magic” was innate and
not learned. There was joy in the telling of stories from his Tom
Sawyer-like youth to his college days at the University of
Maryland, through his years as a telecommunications pioneer and, of
course, this last year of challenge and courage as he fought
stomach cancer. His mischievous and often self-deprecating sense of
humor, his gusto for living, and his passion for learning were
illuminated throughout the afternoon. One of the common, yet
surprising, themes was his love of spontaneous singing, even if the
lyrics were made up and sung out of tune.

John’s volunteer leadership at the Lobero Theatre, first as
boardmember and then as executive director, revived hope for fiscal
success and community confidence. More than $2.5 million for Lobero
programs and capital needs was raised during his tenure as
executive director. He was very pleased with the leadership that
George Burtness and David Asbell have continued at the Lobero.
John, being good at so many things, could truly be called a
Renaissance Man and a mentor to many. He was respected in the
business world, receiving numerous accolades and realizing great
success. He loved his company TMC Communications, which his
colleagues described not as a job, but as a great source of fun for
John. John was a lover of the arts and an avid sportsman. He
enjoyed skiing and horseback riding with his family. He rented a
large ski house every year to host the annual “Marsch Magic” family
ski trips. He had a piano lesson every morning for years. At home
in Santa Barbara, he was often seen running barefoot on Butterfly
Beach. But John’s real passion was flying, and he became an
accomplished pilot with several beautiful aircrafts. While he loved
the bird’s-eye view and the freedom it afforded him, he also
cherished the mechanics of pulling his plane out of its hangar to
make the final approach.

While his magic was an inherent trait, John’s ability to tap it
was his doing. His voracious appetite for reading and learning
history were born during his childhood. His success in business,
especially since he began with nothing, gave him a healthy
perspective. He saw money as a tool for life, not the reason for
it. At the same time, he understood the need to help others who may
not have shared the personal strengths that he had to call upon. As
his friends recalled, John was driven more by a sense of
accomplishment than by wealth for the sake of wealth.

John will be remembered for many things: as a force to be
reckoned with; for his generous community involvement with numerous
charities, playgrounds, animal rescue and shelters, and the
children’s programs he helped fund, many times anonymously; and as
a caring boss who would go the extra mile for an employee. He was
someone with a big heart and the voice of reason, someone who would
step up and take responsibility, even for the mistakes. And as the
line often blurred between his family and friends, many of us were
blessed to be included in that family. He was always a true and
genuine friend.

But John’s blood family was the source of his heartbeat. He
filled the role of father, uncle, and now grandpa (Poppy) to his
three grandchildren Christopher, Gabriella, and Nicholas, with one
more — a boy named John — soon to arrive. They gave him the most
hope and joy in his life. John’s greatest happiness was in being a
father to Melissa and Michelle, and his fondest hope was for his
family to have fulfilled, happy, and healthy lives. He did not want
to miss anything in life and told me he had no regrets; he felt he
was the luckiest man in the world.

We gathered last month to thank John, celebrate him, and say
goodbye. The ceremony was a tearful one, as we heard Andrea Bocelli
and Sarah Brightman sing “Con Te Partirò” (“Time to Say Goodbye”)
while his friends, nephews, and sons-in-law carried him away. As a
final tribute to John, two of his friends flew overhead in the
airplanes that were such a glorious part of his life. They flew
side by side, from the copilots’ seats of his planes, leaving the
pilots’ spots open for John. Perfect.

We love you John, and will miss you every day.


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