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Memorials: Visalia Monthly Meeting

Bob Marshall

Date of birth

Sept. 18, 1924

Date of death

Feb. 13, 2021


Visalia Monthly Meeting

Memorial minute

Bob Marshall, who with his wife Joy and others founded the Visalia Monthly Meeting, died on February 13, 2021, at home in the presence of his  family.  

During his life in the meeting, Bob provided quiet and confident leadership  as Clerk, Treasurer, and Clerk of Building and Grounds. He was a solid and steady presence that kept the meeting stable. He was a skilled craftsman who performed maintenance work himself and managed workdays so all could pitch in, and he helped keep the business of the meeting in good order.  

Robert Pennock Marshall was born on September 18, 1924, in  Philadelphia, PA, to Lewis and Ruth Pennock Marshall, joining his only sibling, Jane Marshall Cox. Bob graduated from Westtown, a Quaker school near Philadelphia. When he graduated, he attended Penn State University and then transferred to Guilford College in North Carolina.  

As a conscientious objector in World War II, Bob devoted himself to public service: working on the Appalachian Trail; providing care in a veteran's hospital, a school for developmentally disabled, and a mental hospital; and fighting wildfires as a smoke jumper in Montana. 

When he resumed his education at William Penn College in Iowa, where he earned his degree, he discovered that an Iowa farm girl, Joy Cope, whom he had met when she was visiting family in Philadelphia, was a student there. Bob and Joy were married on November 25,1948. 

Bob taught for a while at a Pennsylvania private elementary school, but, wanting a change and always interested in building, Bob became a carpenter. He worked on an American Friends Service Committee redevelopment project in Philadelphia, transforming a square block of old houses into a housing cooperative. He directed the work of the owners and volunteers, including  himself, as they remodeled the buildings. Meanwhile Bob and Joy had three children, Sylvia, Gwyneth, and Bruce.  

In 1966 Bob had the opportunity to take a job in California with newly  created Self-Help Housing, an American Friends Service Committee project in Tulare County, which was later funded by the War on Poverty. Tragically the director who hired him was killed in an automobile accident the day Bob and his family arrived in Visalia. Three months later Bob was chosen to be executive director, a job he held for nearly twenty-five years until he retired in 1989, Bob was proud of the efforts of the Self-Help staff and small groups of farm-worker families working together to build their homes. When he retired, Bob had seen the organization grow into a large non-profit business, Self-Help Enterprises, with a two-story building of its own, named for him. 

Retirement was just a transition. Already active in community  organizations, Bob dedicated himself to a variety of volunteer activities. He served on the boards of C-SET, the Tulare County Community Action Agency and on the City of Visalia Parks and Recreation Commission. He wrote grants for the improvement of Wittman Center, a facility to serve youth in North Visalia, and he joined others to form a Habitat For Humanity organization in Tulare County, where he served on the board and used his leadership and carpentry skills to manage projects and participate in construction.  

The Visalia Chamber of Commerce recognized Bob as Visalia's Man of the Year in 1993. 

Along with his leadership in the Visalia Monthly Meeting, Bob served the larger Quaker community on the board of Ben Lomand Quaker Center, where he also worked on projects to develop and maintain the building and grounds. True to his faith, Bob was a witness for social justice and peace by participating in Crop Walk, a fundraiser for food in Tulare County, and in a weekly peace vigil on  a busy corner in Visalia. He counseled young people who were considering becoming conscientious objectors.  

All his life Bob participated in sports as competitor, coach, and fan. Proud that his mother Ruth Pennock Marshall was a cousin of Herb Pennock, Hall-of Fame pitcher for the legendary 1927 New York Yankees, he played baseball as a young man and remained a baseball fan his whole life. In later years he was an avid San Francisco Giants fan and annually traveled to San Francisco to see a game with his daughter Gwynn and her husband Rick. On a number of  occasions he traveled to Phoenix with friends to spend a week attending spring training games.  

Bob also played soccer and softball in municipal leagues and coached his children and grandchildren in these sports. He enjoyed backpacking trips with his buddies to the Sierra Nevada which changed to cross-country skiing in the winter. Bob played tennis into his eighties at the Visalia Racquet Club and on public courts. He was always eager to coach and encourage any players.  

Sports were important in the development of Bob's character. In a tribute to Bob at his death, Tom Collishaw, one of his successors at Self-Help, said: 

“In a way, to know Bob's tennis game is to know Bob. There is nothing flashy about it. He simply hits the ball back, time and time again, placing the ball delicately, not powerfully, exactly where he wants it. Playing tennis with Bob is a frustrating experience because he is relentless. One who watches Bob play against a stronger opponent will have the initial feeling that he is being overpowered - that he is losing the match. However, if that person has the interest and energy to stay and watch, Bob will usually prevail in the end. This is Bob's style of activism as well.”

But most of all Bob's character was rooted in his Quaker faith. Dirk  Holkeboer, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity, Tulare County, wrote in a newsletter tribute: 

“Bob Marshall filled his 96+ years with a commitment to his community and its most vulnerable members fueled by a Quaker-infused sense of justice... he always ‘walked his talk.’” 

In summing up comments about Bob made by friends and colleagues  around the country, Collishaw said: 

“The descriptions are remarkably consistent, speaking about Bob's perseverance, tenacity, humility, humanity, patience, kindness, his commitment to action.”

Maybe the best example of Bob's character and leadership is Collishaw's  concluding statement: 

“Bob established a culture at SHE and approach to the work that we preach to this day. First treat all people with dignity and respect. Second, be tireless in the pursuit of the mission. Third, today's challenges should never drive our relationships with politicians, public agencies, community leaders, or other organizations - so don't burn bridges. And lastly, never provoke a fight intentionally, but always stand up for what is right.”

Bob is survived by his wife for 72 years, Joy; children Sylvia Garrett (Ron), Gwyneth Marshall (Rick Minervini), and Bruce Marshall; grandchildren Nathan Garrett (Shelly), Jesse Garrett (Crissina), Chloe Minervini, Mallory Marshall, Erin Marshall, and Nolan Marshall; great grandchildren Dakotah and Georgia Garrett, and niece Heather Cox Cooke.