On The Loss Of A Friend

I recently and unexpectedly lost a valued colleague and friend. It was a devastating blow to me personally, and to the whole school, as we struggled to make sense of his sudden death. He was a genuine person who I relied on for honest opinions, objectivity, and emotional support when the case warranted it. There were no “sides” to him–what you saw was what you got, a consummate professional who needed no hand-holding and rarely complained about anything, a caring human being who appreciated other people but didn’t rely on them for his sense of self. It happened right before the end of the school year, and I think I spent most of the rest of June in a state of shock and disbelief, but now I face a September where the reality of his absence will have to set in. I’ll deal with it, of course–there’s no choice really. It’s not like he changed schools or retired, and there’s a chance he might pop in for a visit (although, if he did, that would be something!). At any rate, I gave a eulogy at his funeral, and I’m posting it here as a tribute to him. I’ve taken out the names of his family members, but otherwise, it’s what I said about a man who will be missed more than he probably imagined.

A Tribute To Howard Marshall

Howard Marshall was a man of many names.

When he was looking particularly dapper, he was “The Silver Fox”. On certain occasions, when he wore a black shirt and black pants, we called him “Johnny Cash, the man in black”. Howard always dressed impeccably, even on dress-down Fridays. On one occasion, another member of the English department met him at a local shopping mall and he was wearing jeans! The colleague was so surprised that he took a picture just to prove that Howard did in fact dress down on weekends. One of my favourite memories of Howard comes from the time we did our IB training together in Florida. He wore dress pants and dress shirts for the entire trip. His only concession to the heat and environment was the evening we took a stroll along the beach and he rolled up the cuffs on his pants so that he could walk barefoot in the surf without getting them wet.

Howard had a wry sense of humour, and when he was being especially cheeky, he was “Howard!!” He was most often a serious person, but he had a terrible mischievous streak, which tended to come out in staff meetings and other formal functions. He would make witty comments under his breath to whoever was sitting near him, until someone would invariable say, “Howard!!” Then he would snicker…and continue cracking jokes.

When he allowed his colleagues and friends to tease him, he was “Poor Howard”. He would set himself up for a good teasing, and then turn to me and say, “See? See how they’re abusing me?!”, and I would always say, “Poor Howard. Leave him alone!” at which point he would stick his tongue out at the offender and say, “Do you hear that? The department head says to leave me alone!” And then everyone, including Howard, would laugh.

To his students, he was always Mr. Marshall. And it was always said with tremendous respect, and very often with affection. If anyone has seen the messages on the banners and cards that our students have been writing, there is no doubt that Howard was loved by his students. Even students who never had Howard as a teacher have expressed a sense of loss, with many remarking that they would chat with him in the halls or the cafeteria lineup and would miss his daily presence in their lives.

In addition to his many names, Howard was many men.

Howard was a busy man. He was always doing something, whether it was teaching regular school, night school, or summer school. On his prep period, he could be found writing up his lesson plans. Even after decades as an educator, he still wrote extremely detailed plans every day. His colleagues marvelled at him, and the fact that a new teacher could teach an entire course simply out of one of Howard’s binders, which he was always happy to provide when asked for help. Outside of school, Howard was equally busy, regaling us with stories of his latest renovation project, or his plans for the Multi-Cultural Club dinner.

Howard was a family man. We could rarely get him to come out for a department lunch on a PD day or join us for a social because he usually had plans with his wife. He was devoted to her, and often spoke of how they met, and how he knew immediately that she was “The One”. He adored his daughter, and was extremely proud of her. He marvelled at her skills as a stylist, once remarking to me that “all she does is take a pin, twist her hair around somehow, and suddenly it looks amazing!” When she changed careers, he was equally proud, and hoped that she would be just as happy on her new path. He used to tell us about how, when they were living in the North, one of his favourite things was to come down to Southern Ontario on a shopping trip and buy her beautiful dresses. I’m sure she was the best-dressed little girl in the North. When she married, he was delighted and always spoke of his new son-in-law with genuine warmth. And he was thrilled to be a grandfather, showing us pictures of her when she came into his life, and telling us of his excitement over becoming a grandfather for the second time.

Above all else, Howard was a happy man. He loved his job, his colleagues, friends, and students, and he loved his family. And in return, we all loved him. He was a thoughtful person, who could always be counted on for a kind word, sound advice, or simply a shoulder to lean on. I rarely heard him say anything negative about anything. He was a forward-looking man who seemed to view the future with optimism and a sense of hope, and in that spirit, the spirit of a wonderful friend who rolled up his cuffs to walk in the ocean, I would like to share Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Crossing The Bar”, in tribute to Howard.

“Sunset and evening star and one clear call for me,
And may there be no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea.
Twilight and evening bell and after that the dark,
And may there be no sadness of farewell when I embark.
For tho’ from out our bourne of time and place,
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to meet my Pilot face to face when I have cross’d the bar.

Howard, you will be forever missed and never forgotten.