Paul Marion: A Life Well Lived
By Stefan Amrine
On the beautifully cool evening of September 29th, 2012, the large dining hall of Giorgio’s in Toledo, Ohio was packed. Nearly one hundred friends and family of Paul Marion came to celebrate his ninetieth birthday. As guests arrived, Paul stood by the dining room door, elegantly dressed in a finely tailored suit, personally greeting each newcomer. Although his hearing was limited, he was a healthy ninety years old, with the spirit of a man living life to its fullest. Standing at the door, he conveyed both warmth and authority. One could clearly hear his rich, stentorian voice.
The party was classy. Wine flowed, a piano played and guests chatted over fine finger food. When we were seated for the main course, a prayer and toast were offered, accompanied by short speeches honoring Paul. His son, Marc Marion, spoke of his father going door to door, selling insurance so that the two children, Marc and Margot, could go to college. As much as Paul loved his work as a church musician, it was hardly a lucrative career.
Eventually, Paul did both, selling State Farm Insurance on Central Avenue in Toledo, Ohio and leading the choir at St. Michael’s in the Hills Episcopal Church. He worked both jobs well into his eighties. Colleagues, customers and congregation members were always impressed by his integrity, diligence, faith and work ethic. They could – and did – trust him.
Being the eldest grandchild, I was invited to give a short speech. I spoke of my grandfather being not only a wonderful family member, but also, a great friend. Almost everyone loves their grandparents; few consider them close friends. After the speech, we embraced. This was one of our last moments.
Early Life and Formative Years
Paul Marion was born on September 18, 1922 in Neosho, Missouri. He later moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, growing up in the Deep South during the Great Depression. Living in the Jim Crow South, his worldview had been shaped by racial segregation. After hearing him express racially insensitive language on a public bus, his future wife, Kay, gave him a choice: change or leave. Paul Marion was never the same, later working to desegregate Toledo’s neighborhoods.
After enlisting in the Navy during World War II, Paul joined the Navy and was stationed in the Northwest where he met Kay. He was also stationed in Washington, DC, and had the chance to play the bass drum during President Roosevelt’s funeral procession down Pennsylvania Avenue. For a man shaped by the Great Depression and World War II, it was a moment he would cherish. He would never forget the tearful thousands who lined the streets, his incessant pounding of the bass drum and the bloodied, soreness of his hands after the march.
At the urging of Kay, Paul attended the University of Illinois on the GI Bill. He then enrolled at Union Theological Seminary in New York City to study theology and sacred music. Paul was able to meet well known theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr for whom faith and the intellect were not mutually exclusive. Through their experience in New York City, Paul and Kay developed a love for art, fine food, fashion and travel. They later brought the cosmopolitan influence of New York City to Toledo, searching for the best restaurants, collecting art, going to concerts and visiting the Toledo Museum of Art.
A Community Member of Toledo, Ohio
Although he traveled across the United States and world, Toledo, Ohio was Paul Marion’s home. His house on Cheltenham in the Old Orchard neighborhood was a warm and welcoming place to stay. However, he preferred to engage the surrounding community by helping a neighbor in need or joining a community group.
In his obituary he was remembered as “a member of the Masterworks Chorale, St. Michael’s in the Hills Episcopal Church, Toledo Modern Art Group, the Toledo Museum, and Westgate Neighbors. He volunteered in the Toledo Public Schools, and worked on many social issues.” Paul loved to visit the Toledo Zoo or catch a Mud Hens game with friends from church. One would not have to look far to find him eating slowly but surely at one of his favorite restaurants along the Maumee River.
Recalling his time with Paul Marion, the Rev. Gregory Sammons of St. Michael’s told the Toledo Blade, “He was warm. He was attentive to the details of the relationships with people and cared deeply about all the members of his choir.” Father Sammons continued, “For him, music was important. The method, the process was about building community.” He stretched himself, moving beyond the standard church repertoire to incorporate challenging works of Bach, Brahms, and Handel’s Messiah.
Growing up in Michigan, I did not have to go far to see my grandparents in Toledo. It was wonderful to go out to dinner, see the zoo and museum, maybe a Mud Hens game. Being physically fit, my grandfather would take me golfing or even challenge me to a wrestling match in the living room. I am not sure who won.
Every milestone – a birthday, holiday or personal accomplishment – had to be celebrated. This often took the form of a fine meal or handwritten note. Sometimes, we were taken on a trip to celebrate a birthday. When I was younger, I was given the Ohio tour, including overnight stops in Cincinnati and Cleveland. I will never forget my grandparents taking me to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It was their way of connecting, meeting me where I was. We went on boat rides down Cincinnati’s muddy Ohio River and heard sweet melodies of the Cleveland Symphony. The meals were beautiful culinary experiences and a chance to dress up.
As I grew older, we went farther afield to Oklahoma City, Tucson, Seattle and San Francisco. Each trip was an active experience with hikes, golf outings, and visits to National Parks. Yes, I was spoiled rotten, but there was a reason I could call my grandparents friends; they not only wanted to hear about my life, they wanted to participate in it.
A Final Goodbye
During Thanksgiving 2012, I traveled from Washington, DC with my girlfriend, Lauren, back to Michigan. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we stopped in Toledo for a visit with my grandfather and his wife, Kay. We took them to their favorite Toledo restaurant, Giorgio’s. The four of us enjoyed a wonderful meal. The staff at Giorgio’s knew Paul and Kay well; they were a part of each other’s community. My grandmother did much of the chatting as Paul slowly enjoyed his finely cooked meal. Every now and then, he would interject a lighthearted quip or sincere question about our lives as “young people.” After being treated to hundreds of fine meals over the years, it was my turn to pick up the check. At one point, Kay loudly whispered to Paul that they should not order much. I smiled.
Lauren and I did not make it back to Michigan for Christmas. We traveled to Spain with my parents. I remember speaking with my grandfather in January of 2013. There was a weary, melancholy his voice. He was under the weather and sad that he did not see family over Christmas. Paul also expressed condolences for the loss of my other grandfather, Frederick Amrine, who passed away on January 10, 2013. I was unprepared for further grief.
In early February, in a conversation with my mother, Margot, I came to learn that my grandfather had leukemia. The only question was exactly what kind. Spots had broken out across Paul’s chest, he was chilled and fatigued. A simple internet search confirmed that the leukemia could be lethal. Soon after, our worst fears were confirmed. Paul Marion had one week to a month to live.
At first, I did not know what to do. I was shocked, saddened, and numb. A day later, I hopped in the car and made the snowy February drive from Washington, DC to Toledo, Ohio. By the time I arrived, Paul had been transferred to hospice care. I went straight to the hospice. My grandfather and I, full of tears, embraced. “Good man,” he said. I spent another day visiting. It was enough. Paul had so many friends and family who needed to visit. He was cheery but exhausted, falling asleep throughout the day. I knew it was time to go and let others say goodbye and thank you. We bid farewell, knowing that it was the last time we would see each other.
In the weeks that followed, scores of visitors came to his bedside. Friends (close and otherwise) came to pay their respects. Choirs regaled him with the joy of music. Paul Marion had spent countless hours visiting sick community members. He had paid it forward. The hospice staff was amazed by the number of visitors who came to pay respects and say thank you. A visitor asking for his room number was told that “he is a celebrity; follow the beaten path.” Hospice nurses routinely spoke of his respect for the staff, humor and upbeat nature in the face of such dire circumstances. He was gracefully exiting the stage.
I remember the last time I spoke with my grandfather, calling on an early Friday evening from a Bed and Breakfast in Durham, North Carolina. He was tired, weaving in and out of consciousness, eventually realizing who I was. I knew it was the last time I would speak with him. I said, “I love you” and let the moment pass, waiting until the phone clicked on the other end.
The following Wednesday, March 13, 2013, he journeyed to the other side. His wife, daughter and church rector gathered at Hospice of Northwest Ohio. Prayers were delivered and flowers placed on the heart of Paul Marion. The time had come. Paul Marion’s life was remembered on March 19, 2013 at St. Michael’s.
The funeral service was, by request, a celebration of his life through music. I was unable to attend but was given a CD of the service. Anthems, hymns and Bach’s organ works were played. The music spoke to the work, faith and passions of Paul Marion; words could not do justice. In remembrance, I sometimes attend services at Washington’s National Cathedral to listen to the organ pieces my grandfather played at St. Michael’s. Each time, as I listen and gaze through the stained glass windows, I am profoundly moved.
At the service, the Rev. Margaret Holt Sammons delivered the Homily. Paul’s daughter, Margot Amrine, and his son, Marc Marion, delivered tributes. Instructed to keep such tributes brief, they painted representative pictures. Margot spoke of her father teaching her to precisely pack a suitcase and also wrap a present. “Precision was the order of the day…there was a Paul Marion ‘Academy of Gift Wrap’…the paper had to be cut exactly right, the ribbon the exact length, but most important were the folds…there was a geometry to it.” They had gathered to thank him for his “thousands of gifts.”
Marc remembered Paul’s “pursuit of excellence” and “his value of giving…not just materially but with his relationships.” Paul and Kay Marion had shared a unique and wonderful life. Despite their blessings, “they always connected with people that were different from themselves.” In particular, Marc recalled how Paul made wonderful, supportive connections with the young people who admired him.
In the months that followed, I made repeated trips back to the Midwest to see my grandmother. It was clearly difficult for her to continue a life without her love of nearly seventy years. She spoke of how “he was so nice…he was perfect, I was spoiled…there’s nobody like him.” This should not have happened “to such a good person.”
As my grandmother has reminded me, Paul Marion lived life fully. He balanced work, leisure and family in such a way that none became a burden. He put his faith into all and was a true gentleman – always holding the door, sending flowers, asking how you were. With his Burberry coats, silk ties and finely tailored suits, my grandfather even looked the part of the perfect gentleman. Hardly profligate, he had an appreciation for quality and would diligently care for his clothing. Many of his suits lasted twenty to thirty years.
In some ways, Paul Marion’s life mirrored that of 20th Century America. He was upwardly mobile and with time and guidance, able to let go of old prejudices. When he needed to make a change to improve his life and that of his family, he did. Paul Marion’s life was fully immersed in the story of 20th Century America. In many ways, the 20th Century history of Ohio is a wonderful microcosm of 20th Century American history. How appropriate he called Ohio home.
Paul Marion’s love and influence continue to live in my life and those who were fortunate enough to know him. His hymn can still be sung.