By: David S. Marshall, son of JMI Founder, Dr. Stanley Marshall
No thread ran more thoroughly through the life of my father, J. Stanley Marshall, than did education. The decision to name The James Madison Institute’s Center for Educational Options after him fits as well as any tribute to him could.
Dad was a man of renown: the founder of JMI, a president of Florida State University, a member of various prominent commissions and boards of national and state government. I had the pleasure, though, of knowing quite well the private side of him. That side was extraordinary, too.
When Dad was young, a teacher at the local high school fired up his imagination. It was not by the man’s teaching, since Dad was not yet a high school student, but by the dashing figure he cut, the way he dressed and carried himself. “This was the kind of man,” Dad told me decades later, “I wanted to be when I grew up.”
I think Dad ignited young imaginations in the same way in his first teaching job, at the public high school in Seneca Falls, New York. And he enjoyed that job, he once told me, as much as any he ever held.
Dad was fresh from World War II. He taught physics and coached the basketball and track teams. In fact, he created the track team; there had been none at the school for years.
Seneca Falls had received much immigration from Italy. Many of Dad’s students were second- generation Italian-Americans. His Pennsylvania farm upbringing had not produced much contact with Italian Americans, but that was no problem for Dad. He did not merely accept the cultural differences; he relished them. I know because of the stories he liked to tell about those days.
And because of the way those kids received him. At the end of his second year in Seneca Falls, the senior class dedicated the yearbook to him. The friendships he formed with those students lasted for the rest of his life. He attended their reunions until 2013, just six months before he died.
Dad didn’t have a long career as a high school teacher. Even though he loved the work, the students, and the prominence in community life, he was drawn to the opportunity to play on a larger stage. Years later, he still reflected on the fine life he could have had without leaving high school teaching. But leave it he did, to get a Ph.D. in education and to become a college teacher—a teacher of those who would be teachers, many in high school, themselves.
Even after becoming a college teacher in New York State, Dad’s ambition extended beyond the lecture hall. I remember that he would often take overnight trips to Albany to make educational movies. The only one I remember seeing showed Dad pursuing an escaped frog around the studio. I saw it, of course, because Dad showed it to me—an example of his love of laughing at himself.
Eventually Dad was chosen to write science textbooks. He loved language and writing—his longest and final post at JMI was publisher of The Journal of The James Madison Institute—so this way of spreading his love of science and education suited him well.
Dad kept his day job, as they say, while making movies and writing books. He was blessed with extraordinary energy. Eight hours of sleep sounded about right to him—for two nights combined.
It was at Florida State University that Dad stepped onto a still larger stage as a university administrator and eventually the president of FSU.
But his educational legacy is not confined to New York and Florida. A large piece of it lies in Ankara, Turkey. There in the 1960’s Dad led the establishment of Fen Lisesi, a boarding high school to provide superior education in science and related subjects to promising students chosen from throughout Turkey. Condolences at his death came from Turks whose lives he improved.
Dad employed his abilities to encourage, to inspire, and to rally through adversity, not just with his students and athletes, but also with his children. One episode from our time in Turkey stands out.
We had a Turkish cook during the work week. On Friday, she would often cook us something to eat over the weekend. One weekend it was a large pot of vegetable soup.
I was thirteen, and my sister, Sue, eleven. The challenge we faced throughout our entire time in Turkey was the food. Like most kids, we had gag reflexes that responded quickly to any exotic food. Starting even before we arrived in Turkey, Dad let us know the food would be different and that we would often need to summon our resolve to eat it.
The weekend of the soup took even more determination than most. Meal after meal, Dad served us soup and rallied us to eat it. Eat it we did.
Monday morning, our cook came to work and sniffed the remnant. She wrinkled her nose and said to Dad, “Oh, Monsieur, soup spoiled!”
That was another joke on Dad that he loved to tell.
But he could get angry, too, of course. And if his anger was righteous, it endured. So it was that a man who loved education and loved teachers came to anger at teachers’ unions.
Dad perceived that most teachers unions were not committed to improving education. Their leaders sought, rather, to protect the jobs and incomes of their members, even their members some who taught quite poorly. In his years at JMI, Dad put a lot of energy into building teacher organizations that he hoped would supplant the current unions and would be committed to the search for better ways to teach kids—all kids, but especially those who, on account of ethnicity or poverty, did not yet receive a quality education. Dad cared deeply for kids and wanted them all to have the opportunity to become well educated. However, he wasn’t all smiles when encountering obstacles to that goal.
But it is the smiling Dad I miss the most, whose example I am still trying to follow. The man who believed God, in giving us life, gave us a marvel and meant for us to enjoy it.
Before Dad grew old, I thought the love of music was mostly for the young. Dad’s great love of music seemed, though, to increase with age. He discovered the jazz singer Diana Krall and arranged to be in New York with Shirley, my step-mother, when she was performing. In Doak Campbell Stadium, he enjoyed the Marching Chiefs nearly as much as the football games.
A few months after Dad died, I was in a coffee shop when “The Girl from Ipanema,” the bossa nova hit from 1964, came on the sound system. I remembered that Dad had fallen fast for that song and, when he called my attention to it, I fell for it, too. A wave of emotion swept over me as I awaited my coffee. It was a bittersweet moment of “They’re playing our song!”
Maybe now you better understand how I loved the man. All those who knew him well did.