NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Seat 19 in row D of section 104 is vacant in Allen Arena as the Lipscomb basketball team opens ASUN Conference play today. When baseball arrives in a few weeks seat 14 on row D in section 103 will be empty as well.
The big table at the Green Hills McDonald’s requires one less chair for breakfast. Pie day won't be as sweet at O'Charley's.
Friday night Lee Marsh, one of the top contributors to and probably the biggest fan of Lipscomb athletics, passed away Friday night from complications from a stroke. He was 91. Marsh was a member of the Lipscomb Athletics Hall of Fame, inducted for "meritorious service" in 1998.
"Many times when Mr. Marsh and I were together, I'd say, 'The quality of this gathering just got better now that you're here.',” Philip Hutcheson, Lipscomb’s Athletics Director said. “And I would say the quality of my life, that of Lipscomb as a university and all those thousands of student-athletes he encouraged and supported have also been made immeasurably better by his presence in our lives.
“He's been a great fan, and more importantly, friend and brother. He was a great example as one who loved the Lord, his family and Lipscomb. We will miss him but certainly never forget him or the impact he's had on so many."
Mr. Marsh’s visitation and funeral will be at the Hillsboro Church of Christ. Visitation will be Tuesday from 4-8 p.m. and Wednesday from 9:30-10:30 a.m. with the service to follow at 10:30 Wednesday.
"Lee Marsh has been an ardent supporter of Lipscomb for decades through his leadership on the board of trustees, his financial support for the institution and his presence at numerous university events through the years. Our athletic teams have no bigger fan than Mr. Marsh," said Lipscomb President L. Randolph Lowry. "We greatly appreciate his love for Lipscomb, its students and our mission, and we will certainly miss seeing him on the sidelines at Bison athletic events."
His love for the Lord was first on his list followed by his devotion to his family. But it can be said that Lipscomb athletics was third on his list of priorities. He was preceded in death by his wife, Ann, and his son, Steve. His twin daughters, Gwendolyn (Doak) and Cynthia (Bickel) survive.
"It is my belief that Lee Marsh might be the single greatest fan and supporter Lipscomb Athletics has ever had since we started playing competitively in the 1930s,” Andy Lane, Associate Director of Lipscomb Athletics, said. "Upon Lee's arrival on campus in the late 1940s Lipscomb was in the midst of becoming a four-year Senior College, leading in the formation of the Volunteer State Athletic Conference and the building of historic McQuiddy Gymnasium.
“At this point in Lipscomb's history athletics became a pivotal part in Lipscomb's overall history and Lee Marsh was there from the beginning. For 60-plus years since his graduation in 1950 I can think of no one who has encouraged Lipscomb Athletes, attended as many games and shared his blessings with Lipscomb Athletics for such a long and consistent time like Lee Marsh.”
Not only will Mr. Marsh be remembered for his presence and contributions, he will also be forever in the minds of those who knew him because of his friendly demeanor and positive outlook on life.
“Lee had such a sweet spirit and has been maybe the greatest ambassador for Lipscomb in school history,” Lane said. “He truly is a walking history book when it comes to Lipscomb Athletics having had a front row seat at almost every major historical event in Lipscomb Athletics history. It has been an honor to call Lee a friend and spend such quality time with this fine man.”
Marsh instantly fell in love with Lipscomb from his first day on campus.
“All the people were wonderful,” Marsh said. “Athens Clay Pullias was the president. We would say `swing and sway with Athens Clay’. Willard Collins was the vice-president. Willard Collins was in chapel every day and everybody loved him.
“Willard Collins is the reason I love the school so much. He made you feel comfortable. I want to help the church and Lipscomb. I had Willard Collins for Early Hebrew History. He made the characters come alive. He made such an impression on me. I was eager to continue learning.”
Marsh, influenced by a cousin, Betty Jean Merriman Staggs, decided to attend Lipscomb in 1946. He stressed he lived “in the country” around Pikeville, Tennessee. He had served in the U.S. Navy from 1944-46 in World War II and went to school on the G.I. Bill.
He remembers his first day on campus as a student was on a Sunday. He arrived early and helped students move into the dorm.
The son of a coal miner, who also was a farmer, Marsh first learned about Lipscomb when he started reading the “Gospel Advocate”.
“If it hadn’t been for the G.I. Bill I could not have attended Lipscomb,” Marsh said. “My first thought was how big the campus was. Everything was small where I came from.”
On “Stunt Night” in 1947 he met Ann Moss, the woman who would one day become his wife and help him raise three children, all graduates of Lipscomb. They were together for 65 years before her death in January of last year.
Marsh majored in physical education at Lipscomb. From 1946-48 he played basketball on the junior varsity for coaches Herman Waddell and Eugene “Fessor” Boyce.
After graduation in 1950 he returned to Pikeville where he coached football and basketball and taught.
“I wasn’t a very good coach,” Marsh said. “I taught and I knew coaching and teaching were not for me.”
He decided to pursue a career in banking and accepted a position with the old Commerce Union Bank. Much of his work dealt with providing financing for owners of automobile dealerships and he found that profession attractive.
He became a partner in a Ford dealership in Dickson, Tennessee in 1966. He had several dealerships including locations in Centerville, Waverly and Huntington. He also helped his son, Steve, purchase a dealership in Milan.
Marsh remained in the banking business through his 40 years of service on the board of the Bank of Dickson, a position he still held.
Marsh and Ann sent three children to Lipscomb – Stephen, Gwendolyn and Cynthia. Stephen was active as a play-by-play announcer for the Lipscomb baseball team in the late 1970s including the two NAIA National Championships. He passed away suddenly at the age of 41 and his name lives on at Stephen L. Marsh Stadium, home of Ken Dugan Field.
The first contribution Marsh made to Lipscomb was a year after his graduation. He donated $50 to the school.
“That was a lot of money back then and a lot of money for me,” Marsh said. “They wanted everybody in the school to give back. It just evolved from there.”
He has given so many times that amount since with athletics being the primary beneficiary. His name is on the Huston-Marsh-Griffith Tennis Center. The baseball stadium has been greatly improved due to his donations. His annual pizza party at Allen Arena to introduce the basketball teams and distribute season tickets has become a tradition.
Marsh rates the 1977 and 1979 NAIA National Championships in baseball as two of the biggest events in the history of the athletic department. He wasn’t in Kansas City, Missouri for the men’s basketball program’s 1986 National Championship.
He was in Daytona, Florida with the baseball team in 1986 when the men’s basketball team won the NAIA National title in Kansas City, Missouri. Marsh listened to the game on his radio in his hotel room with a number of his fellow Lipscomb fans.
Marsh’s influence has been a cornerstone in the continued develop of the athletics program.
“While I'm proud to call Mr. Marsh a Lipscomb Athletics Hall of Fame member, a fellow Lipscomb University alum and even a fellow member of the church we attend together, what I'm most proud to call him is my friend,” Hutcheson said. “I don't know anyone who enjoys or appreciates more what it means to be a part of the Lipscomb Athletics family.
“As a result, I don't know anyone who loves, and is loved by, more Lipscomb alums and fans than Mr. Marsh. His obvious passion for the programs, the history and most of all, the people, that are a part of Lipscomb is contagious and if you asked many Lipscomb Athletics alums if there was just one fan they can remember from their time on campus, Mr. Marsh's name would be at the top of most of those lists.”
Hutcheson stresses that Marsh has done so much to make everything he is involved with better.
“It's said that some people are thermometers and some are thermostats, meaning that some react to the circumstances around them and some change any environment that they are a part of for the better,” Hutcheson said. “Mr. Marsh was the kind of man that made anything he was a part of better.
“Whether that was Lipscomb University, the businesses he was a part of, the churches he attended, the communities he lived in or the family he led, Mr. Marsh made all of those better for his having been a part of them. And on a more personal level, he's made me and I'm sure many other friends, better people as a result of the encouragement he shared and the example that he set.”
The family has asked that donations in honor of Mr. Marsh be made to Lipscomb Athletics.