Royal Marshall, Neal Boortz’s irrepressibly cheerful right-hand man for more than 17 years, died of a heart attack a year ago.
His closest friends, family and colleagues are still trying to pick up the pieces. At AM 750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB, Marshall’s workplace for nearly two decades, the station Friday honored him with a bronze plaque and tree planted in his name. The plaque will be placed in the control room, his second home.
“Honestly, it still doesn’t feel real,” said Belinda Skelton, Boortz’s producer. “I keep thinking he’s coming back from vacation. But every day, I feel his loss. I miss that laugh.”
Boortz told the group at the dedication when he started doing his show in Naples, Fla. more often, he couldn’t visually signal Marshall when he was ready to go. But he said Marshall knew him so well, “he always knew where my mind was. He knew to the second when I was ready to start the bumper music.”
Marshall was originally Boortz’s engineer and engineers on most shows don’t say much– if anything — on radio shows. But Marshall early on began inserting himself into the conversation and Boortz liked it.
“He understood intuitively when I wanted him to come into the show,” he said. His voice broke as he said, “It just hit me again last weekend… I was sitting down there watching sailboats and I couldn’t get Royal off my mind. You really can’t. So happy we’re dedicating that room to him.”
Boortz couldn’t resist a self-deprecating crack: “Three or four years down the road, they’ll dedicate the restroom for me.”
In an earlier interview, Boortz said Marshall is “irreplaceable. He was perfect for me. He helped put my show on a national map. I miss him agreeing with me. I miss him confronting me. He is just something wonderful that happened. I’m not going to ever try to find another one like him because he doesn’t exist.”
Perhaps the toughest transition has been for Annette Marshall, Royal’s wife, and his two young daughters, Amira, 5, and Ava, 3.
The chief compliance officer at an investment firm, Annette jumped right back into work about two weeks after Royal died.
This was not a healthy move, she said. She ultimately took a 12-week leave of absence last summer to help deal with her grief. She received counseling and came to better terms with what happened.
Her daughters didn’t have it any easier. Her oldest daughter Amira has had stress-related issues, while Ava cried every day for her daddy for eight months.
“At one point,” Annette said, “Ava told me, ‘I don’t like Daddy anymore because he won’t come home.’ ”
But Ava in late August had a breakthrough, a dream about Royal. She told her mom she realized her daddy “was with God.” And she didn’t cry as much anymore.
Marshall made plenty of videos of his girls and she has uploaded many of them off his iPhone and placed them on YouTube. “No special moments,” Annette said. “Just moments. You don’t see much of him. But you hear his laugh.”
She did this not just for herself but for her girls. “I want them to remember the essence of who their dad is from looking at pictures and videos.”
Annette keeps Royal’s Facebook page alive. “It warms my heart that people have not forgotten him,” she said.
The holidays, she said, were especially difficult. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, she was feeling depressed when Ava accidentally left the upstairs bedroom bathroom sink on. The resulting flood forced the family to live first with friends, then a hotel, for three weeks, while repairs were being made.
“In a way,” Annette said, “dealing with the flood and rebuilding was a welcome distraction.”
She said she is grateful for the six-plus years she was with Royal. “I always imagined what kind of relationship I wanted,” she said. “For a marriage, this surpassed it.”
The pair actually knew each other going back to high school in St. Louis. But he was younger than she was by about a year and she paid him little mind. They crossed paths in college and then, in Atlanta as well, over the years. But only in 2004, when they ran into each other by chance at Piedmont Park, did she finally give him her phone number.
Their first date, she said, she didn’t even realize was a date. He invited her to a friend’s cookout. Her expectations were so modest, she had dressed up, thinking she would meet someone else there. She only realized his intentions, she said, when he started feeding her shrimp. Their first kiss? She said she actually saw fireworks.
By 2005, they were married.
“We had a great relationship,” she said. “We laughed. We played. We sang. We never tried to impress each other. We accepted one another, faults and all. God brought us together when we were both ready for it. He allowed us to experience on Earth just a little bit of His love for me through Royal’s love for me.”
Here’s Boortz’s producer Belinda Skelton and Annette speaking at the Royal Marshall dedication in the WSB Radio newsroom:
And here is Neal Boortz unveiling the plaque and a special painting done of Royal:
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk