To listeners, Royal Marshall was a likable foil for talk-show host Neal Boortz. To his colleagues, he was a perpetual breath of fresh air, a man who could turn a frown into a smile, grumpiness into laughter. To his family, he was a doting father to his two daughters.
Marshall, a crucial component on Boortz’s nationally syndicated radio show heard in Atlanta on AM750 and now 95.5 FM News/Talk WSB, was given an emotional and spiritual sendoff Saturday at Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur where he had been a parishioner for 18 years. More than 1,000 family members, friends, colleagues and fans attended. Boxes of Kleenex were in high demand.
He died Jan. 15 of a heart attack at his Atlanta home. He was 43.
“He was supposed to come to my service,” said the 65-year-old Boortz during his remarks at the church, as he choked up, “maybe 25 years from now.”
“I have never known anybody else in my life,” he continued, “who is in a good mood and good humor every single day of his life. I can’t remember one day he was frowning, one day that he was prone to snap your head off.”
Then in inimitable Boortz style, he added, “That’s totally unnatural to me!”
Boortz later made fun of Marshall’s golf skills. “He couldn’t read a green,” he said, “but he could read people. He could make anybody feel wonderful about himself and their life.”
In Marshall’s honor, Boortz plans to hang a plaque in the WSB Radio engineering room where Marshall presided with an old British World War II saying: “Keep calm and carry on.” He and his wife Donna have also set up an education fund for Marshall’s kids. (The mailing address is: Royal Marshall Memorial Education Fund, Wells Fargo Bank, 1601 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta GA 30309.)
After the 90-minute ceremony, WSB radio host Herman Cain, who frequently substitutes for Boortz, said he found the service “uplifting, the way a home-going service should be. He would have wanted it that way.”
Cain was always amazed by how level-headed Marshall could be, even when the phones weren’t working. “He would just say, ‘We’ll look into it and get it fixed.’ He added this calmness to the room.”
Rahul Bali, Marshall’s producer for his “Royal Treatment” night radio show from 1998 to 2005, said during the reflections that working with Marshall was like “a television show that I got to watch in front of my eyes every day we were on the air. It was the hands, the smile, the smirk. It was everything that was Royal.”
He recalls getting Marshall a cake to celebrate one year on the air back in 1999. Bali said he didn’t pay much attention to what the Publix cake maker was doing. Right before they went on the air, Marshall glanced at the cake and smirked. “He talked about a few things,” Bali said, “then said, ‘Rahul?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘There’s a white man on my cake!’ ”
Bali then noticed the cake featured a white man with an afro.
Marshall, he said, then added, “Black people marched for justice! I can’t get a black man on my cake!”
As part of his charitable efforts, Marshall was chairman of the national advisory board of Forever Family, which helps children whose parents are incarcerated. “I knew it was love,” said Forever Family national president Sandra Barnhill, “when Royal used his personal relationship with Santa to get him to leave the North Pole during his busiest season the last two years and get Santa to come and play games and distribute Christmas toys. Unfortunately, Royal always had other obligations and never made it to the parties. But someone said Santa kind of looked like him. ”
His pastor Rev. Cynthia Hale noted his deep dedication for his four-year-old Amira and two-year-old Ava. “He knew how to paint fingernails,” she said, “because he was a kid at heart.”
One of Marshall’s best friends, Lonnis Allen, recalled their partying days when he was a bachelor but said when he met his wife Annette and had kids, “he dove right in… I would call his house and hear the girls. ‘Daddy! Daddy! I want juice! I want Cheerios!’ He’d say, ‘Man, I’m over here in kiddie land!’ He loved every minute of it.”
Atlanta nurse Mary Virginia Jones, like many in the crowd Saturday, never met Marshall. She was there to pay respects to a man she enjoyed hearing for years on WSB Radio. “I always appreciated his sense of humor and how he would banter back and forth with Neal. You could tell they loved each other. Just a couple weeks ago, I remember Neal asking him about a topic. ‘What do you think, Royal?’ And he meant it.”
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By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog