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Henry Marsh Eulogy

Saturday, June 4, 2011 
Eric R. Gilbertson, President
Saginaw Valley State University


Henry Marsh received an honorary degree from SVSU in 1970. The former Saginaw mayor served on SVSU’s Board of Fellows, a community advisory board, until his passing May 11, 2011

SVSU President Eric R. Gilbertson delivered the following eulogy at the funeral service for Marsh Saturday, June 4:

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To say that Henry Marsh was unique is to flatter unduly those who are merely unique.  He was, in fact, “one of a kind” . . . and “they broke the mold” with him . . . and, well choose your own cliché.  They are all true.

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[The late Saginaw Catholic Bishop] Ken Untener once observed that Henry had a somewhat “argumentative” relationship with the Creator of the Universe.  But the Good Lord really shouldn’t take that personally:  Henry had an argumentative relationship with all the rest of us too.

He just loved a good argument – a test of ideas and convictions and wills.  So the Almighty had better be ready for a tough cross-examination when this lawyer reaches the Pearly Gates: Henry was not entirely pleased with God’s body of work.

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Could our quarrelsome friend have been anything other than a lawyer?

His early days as an attorney in a new community were doubtless difficult ones – think about the fifties and sixties and seventies, parlous times everywhere and certainly no less so in Saginaw.  But to borrow again from the poet, Henry neither winced or cried aloud and may have been bloodied but was forever unbowed.

Eventually, of course, through the force of sheer intellect and guts and hard work, he rose to a position of respect, even veneration, in the legal community and beyond.

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We know that Henry held important public offices and received honorific titles.  Some people seek these as trappings of importance, hoping to draw dignity from them.  Henry brought dignity to the offices and titles he held – as an attorney and counselor at law, a community leader.

And you could not walk with him into any gathering or watering hole in our town where he was not recognized and greeted – decades later – as “Mr. Mayor.”

He gave dignity to these titles.

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Over the years, the Marshs’ living room became a place other leaders and would-be leaders went for advice, for mediation, for unblinking truth telling, and . . . occasionally . . . for comfort.  (The comfort, of course, came from Ruth.)  And in his later days, Henry also became rather like an Old Testament prophet for some of us.  His Jeremiads often stirred us, and occasionally stung us, into seeing our responsibilities with greater clarity – and ourselves with a more poignant honesty.

He was a uniquely idealistic realist – or realistic idealist.  He saw the world and our community for what it was but never gave up hope for what it might still become – if we but have the imagination to envision our “enlightened self-interest” and the courage he had to say what is true and to do what the truth requires of us.

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He loved his family – and especially Ruth, or “Butch” as he called her, with that most unlikely nickname for a lady so gracious and lovely.

And he loved the law and good conversation and caring friendship and oversized dogs and a particular brand of gin.

And he loved Saginaw – in spite of and perhaps even because of its flaws.  And he loved all of us - in spite of and perhaps even because of ours.

We loved him back, and we shall not see the like of him any time soon.

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And now he belongs to the Ages – with Reuben [Daniels] and Harry [Browne] and Ken [Untener] and all those others who passed this way and mattered greatly in the life of our community . . . and in the lives of those of us left here.

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May the God who loves and understands Henry – and all of us – comfort Ruth and the family, rest the soul of our dear friend, and strengthen the soul of his beloved Saginaw.