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‘All About Unconditional Love for Everybody’

  • Deacon Kathy Marshall, of Meriden, N.H., leads members of the Meriden Congregational Church in a blessing for a service team on the church lawn on July 16, 2006. The team spent two weeks in Bolivia later in the summer. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Kathy Marshall and her companion Carl Sandin at a wedding in Meriden, N.H., in 2003. (Family photograph) Family photograph

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 12/25/2016 11:51:04 PM
Modified: 12/25/2016 11:51:05 PM

Etna — One would be hard-pressed to find somebody who disliked Kathy Marshall. Her good side, according to Carl Sandin, her partner of 13 years, was her only side.

Marshall, a resident of Etna, and formerly of Meriden, died in September following a four-year-long struggle with rheumatoid arthritis. She was 68.

She spent her career serving the families of special-needs children in the Upper Valley, work still performed by an organization she founded, the Early Childhood Mental Health Network.

Suzanne Iverson, who worked alongside Marshall at United Development Services, described her as a calm, supportive mentor.

“I think she was all about unconditional love for everybody,” she said. “I didn’t have a mother like Kathy, and she was always supportive of my challenging relationship I had with my parents, always compassionate and understanding.”

While the rheumatoid arthritis required she use an oxygen tank for the last few years, Marshall continued to live a purpose-driven life.

“She wasn’t giving up,” her friend Penny Arcone said. “She wanted to complete projects and finish up what she had started.”

Even when travel become too onerous, Marshall maintained her routine as best she could, inviting her bridge club and the visioning committee of the Meriden Congregational Church — of which she was a devoted member — to hold meetings at her home.

Rod Wendt, one of the committee’s members, described Marshall as a “magnificent” host. “There was always tea, till the very end,” he said.

Marshall was proud of her home, which she and Sandin had custom-built to accommodate her needs as her illness progressed. Having guests was “wonderful” for Marshall, Sandin said.

“She was not a show-off in any way, shape, or form, but she reveled in the fact that she could have company here,” he said.

The hospitality Wendt attributed to Marshall would be of apiece with the quiet compassion she practiced.

“Kathy was one of those people who didn’t speak up a lot, but when she did you listened, because there was wisdom behind it, and caring behind it,” Wendt said.

While Marshall had a straightforward manner, she could nonetheless summon some guile, at least during games of bridge.

“You’d be surprised at how sneaky she was,” Arcone said. “She’d come up with these great strategies.”

Born and raised west of Philadelphia, Marshall arrived in the Upper Valley in 1980, toting a freshly acquired master’s degree in special education from Boston College. She was joined by her then-husband, Gregory Marshall, who had accepted a ministerial post at the Meriden church.

The couple’s daughter, Jill, described her mother as having been inspired to enter the early-intervention field by the story of Helen Keller. Over the course of her career, Jill said, her mother helped “literally thousands of kids across the Upper Valley in really early stages of their lives.”

Marshall also cultivated deep relationships with both professional peers and fellow members of the Meriden community.

“She was well-known for her cards and thank-you notes,” Jill said, “and as I went through her stuff I found hundreds of cards she’d kept from friends and colleagues across the country.”

Among Marshall’s colleagues was Beth Magnuson, who admired the poise Marshall brought to her job at UDS. In a eulogy at Marshall’s memorial service, Magnuson related how her former coworker advised, with calm determination, the family of a baby born with cerebral palsy and compromised vision. “She was often a child’s first teacher, first playmate, and the first person that really helped a family understand their child,” Magnuson said. “What better gift to give a parent than the skills to help their child learn and grow?”

Marshall’s caring approach seems to have been fundamental to her being.

“She didn’t feel like she was sacrificing anything,” said Bill Hammond, Sandin’s son-in-law. “It was just the way she lived her life.”

The Rev. Susan Gregory-Davis, who serves, together with her husband, John, as co-pastor of the Meriden church, described Marshall as a peacemaker, who bridged the gap between newer and more established members of the community, and between adults and children.

“I have the sense she will always be looking over the congregation,” she said.

The term “renaissance woman” would be an apt descriptor for Marshall, given her wide-ranging passions, which included gardening, music, theater and travel.

In Meriden, Marshall cultivated a different garden for each season, and eagerly traded plants with her neighbors. Later, she insisted on designing a garden for her home in Etna, enlisting her sister, Carol Edgar, of Coatesville, Pa., to help with the planting.

Marshall’s love of music, meanwhile, was bound up with her interest in children. For years she directed the Meriden church’s junior choir and gave personalized piano lessons, including to a youthful Will Sheff, future frontman for the indie-rock band Okkervil River.

Marshall also developed an interest in learning how to play the organ, eventually becoming the church’s principal organist.

During the 1980s, Marshall could reliably be seen in Meriden Players productions of such titles as The Music Man, Oliver Twist, and Fiddler on the Roof.

“She never wanted to have a main role,” Jill said, “but she loved being one of the chorus members.”

As her illness became more debilitating, Marshall turned to other, less-taxing pastimes, such as completing the newspaper crossword puzzle each day. However, even that could pose a challenge, her daughter recalled,

“There would be moments of her catching her breath for several minutes; moving from a chair to the couch was so tiring for her.”

Yet she would make it to the couch.

“There was some sort of inner strength she had,” Jill said. “I don’t think many people have access to that within themselves.”

That inner strength, resolve, grit — whatever term one chooses — was on full display at the 2015 Micah Awards, at which the Upper Valley Interfaith Project honored Marshall. In her acceptance speech, Marshall offered some suggestions for how to do good while stricken with an illness, or confined to one’s home.

“You and I can take the time to listen to another person,” she said. “You and I can write a short note; we can do a quick email of checking with a friend. We can help set up a meal delivery for someone newly discharged from a hospital. We can be part of a conference meeting call; we can organize meetings; and we can play bridge when friends come over.

“There are many ways to serve,” Marshall said, “including sitting in a chair.”

Gabe Brison-Trezise can be reached at

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