Obit: Frank Marsh (2001)

Frank Marsh was born in Lamaline, a remote coastal village in Newfoundland, and came to touch the lives of many people in Ontario, and even in distant India, by dint of his professional vision and dedication.

A rural school-teacher who founded Newfoundland’s Eastern College and then became the province’s assistant deputy minister of education, Marsh was, for the last 3-1/2 years, president of Cambrian College in Sudbury, Ont., where he shepherded the faculty and 5,000-strong student body through an unprecedented period of growth and development.

Marsh suffered a fatal heart attack at the campus gym on November 11, three days short of his 51st birthday. A funeral service was held in Sudbury and his body was flown to the town of Garnish, on Newfoundland’s Burin peninsula, for burial.

Marsh’s father had also died young, of a similar cause, when Frank and his only brother were boys.

“His mother valued education for him because she wanted him to go places. He got his love of learning from her,” said Erica Marsh, his daughter. “He knew the value of a good education, and he wanted to give everyone the opportunity to learn.”

The guiding light behind a $25-million expansion of Cambrian’s main campus, Mr. Marsh oversaw the opening last September of a foreign campus serving 300 students in Bombay, India. He also laid the groundwork for a second foreign campus in China’s Wuhan province.

An acute observer of economic trends, he prodded Cambrian to initiate training programs in telecommunications, computer animation, software engineering technology and other leading-edge areas. Thousands of home learners have enrolled in the internet courses he encouraged the college to develop.

“When China won the Olympics, the first thing Frank said was, ‘Many Chinese are going to have to learn English,'” said his friend, Ivan Filion, the college’s academic vice president. “The next thing you know, he’s off making contacts in China, working to establish Cambrian language centers in partnership with post-secondary institutions in China.”

Mr. Marsh also traveled to South Africa, hoping to interest the South Africans in Cambrian’s expertise in training for the mining industry. Except during such excursions abroad, he participated energetically in campus affairs; he strove to be accessible to students, and was a highly visible figure on campus, and not always in the suit and tie many expect for a president.

During “frosh” week he wore a chef’s hat and apron to flip burgers for students; and donned a feathered hat, cape and tights to play D’Artignan, one of the Three Musketeers, for a charity drive. He worked out daily in the gym and often toured the construction site in old clothes and hardhat.

One of his favourite places was the automotive shop, and many students and college employees found him there on weekends. “He loved to work on old cars, to gussy them into shape,” said Sonia Del Missier, vice president of strategic development.

Friends say he had a talent for appreciating the people around him.

“He was really one of the crowd. He was always approachable and he listened to everybody,” Mr. Filion said. “If you sum up his style of management in one sentence, it would be, ‘Treat people decently, and they’ll treat you decently in return.'”

He inspired others to look beyond their own horizons, said Murray Scott, chair of the college’s board of governors. “He came from an absolutely tiny place, and he obviously had a vision to expand beyond it, just as he was helping us to get beyond where we were.”

Even so, he “carried Newfoundland everywhere he went,” said Mr. Filion, who once jested that he should stop using the phrase “We in Newfoundland” now that he lived in Ontario.
“I said, ‘Frank, it’s two years since you’ve been in Ontario, and you should be saying, ‘We in Ontario.’ And he smiled at me and winked, and said, ‘Never, my boy.'”

Two months ago, in a more serious moment, Mr. Marsh told his friend: “I love Ontario and I love all of you, but I’m missing the sea.”

The townsfolk of Garnish embraced Mr. Marsh’s family and friends with tremendous hospitality and compassion when they arrived from Sudbury on their sad mission, and not only because he had once been their mayor.

“I said to one lady, ‘I can’t believe how everyone in Garnish has treated us like royalty,’ Mr. Filion said. “Her answer was, ‘Well, we’re very grateful to you for taking care of our royal son.'”

Mr. Marsh, whose family goes back more generations in Newfoundland than anyone can remember, was buried in Garnish last Sunday in the family plot by the church overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

He leaves his wife, Pamela; two daughters, Erica and Allyson, who are 20 and 17 respectively; and his brother, Charles. ♦

Originally published in the Globe and Mail. © 2001

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