Published in The Day

By Lisa McGinley
Opinion Writer

Today is the day when final calling hours are scheduled for Bob Marrion, but people have already been paying their respects for years.

Robert Marrion, a lawyer’s lawyer, a Navy veteran, a husband and father and grandfather, a runner and tennis player and the ultimate volunteer, died Dec. 9 in Niantic at age 92. No doubt the Fulton-Theroux Funeral Home there will overflow this afternoon because of the effect this kind and farseeing man has had on the community of southeastern Connecticut.

In local journalism, where the compact size of the community means beat reporters run into the newsmakers they cover at the supermarket, the aim is to stay even-handed when rubbing elbows. But you see what you see. In Bob Marrion, who made news in southeastern Connecticut for more than 40 years, it was easy to see a man of conscience who kept coming up with significant ways to do good, and then doing it.

When he took on a project, people paid attention. The things he got done addressed the widest range of problems and influenced the lives of generations. So it is fair to ask: What was Bob Marrion to you? The answer might be a surprise.

The largest number of people he affected, though they may never have known his name, are the recipients of any kind of grant help from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut. First known as The Pequot Community Foundation, it started in the early 1980s with Marrion as one of its founders and its first board chairman.

The MO of the foundation is to give “people of ordinary means” as well as wealthy residents, businesses and legacy donors, the opportunity to leave the community better than they found it. Their gifts become part of an endowment that annually supports the work of local non-profits in education and human services.

The first time it had money to give, in 1983, the foundation gave away $12,000 raised from local donors who had donated $391,000 to start an endowment. By its 25th anniversary the foundation had $40 million in assets. At 40 years old, the endowment is now about $111 million and gives away between $7 million and $8 million a year.

Characteristically, on the 25th anniversary, former chairman Marrion gave credit for the idea of starting a foundation to others. To the end, according to President and CEO Maryam Elahi, “this kind, compassionate and ethical man” remained a cheerleader for the advocacy and system change work of the foundation. Counting all the programs and all the scholarships, the beneficiaries of the foundation are everywhere in the region.

Even earlier, in the 1960s, attorney Marrion served as president of Legacy, New London's first legal aid organization, which he and local colleagues started in order to help people who could not afford representation. Eventually, Legacy was incorporated into Connecticut Statewide Legal Services, continuing to add to the numbers of people given crucial legal assistance.

But there’s more. Robert Marrion chaired the Board of Trustees at Mitchell College at a critical time in the college’s history, as the former two-year “junior college” was facing the need to become a bachelor’s degree-granting, fully accredited institution. The vision for Mitchell became a reality, and the thousands who have graduated since his tenure join the ranks of people whose lives he touched.

Not as an attorney or civic leader but one-on-one, Bob Marrion also made a difference in the lives of students he tutored at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School and as a literacy volunteer at the former Gates Correctional Institution.

If the goal is to leave a place far, far better than you found it, Robert Marrion achieved his success by giving literally thousands of others the means to achieve their own. Maybe one of those is you.

Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day Editorial Board.