By Leslie Lee
Marshall Northcott, director of the Information Technology Department, died on July 6 at his home in Hayward, California. The cancer that took him originated in his early thirties as a melanoma tumor on his leg. It took two operations to completely remove the tumor. In the subsequent years before his death, Marshall received regular screening blood tests to ensure early treatment should the cancer return. His last blood test in February 2013 showed that he was clear. By the time he fell ill in late May, his doctors discovered that the cancer had metastasized to his brain. Prognosis was terminal. He spent his last days at home, comforted by his family, and the emails he received from the College of Marin staff.
Marshall started working for COM on April 1, 2010. In his role as the Director of the Information Technology Department, Marshall managed a staff of approximately sixteen to eighteen employees by himself until March 18, 2013, when Jeff Fleisher was hired as a supervisor.
The IT department maintains the computer infrastructure for the college. They service personal computers, servers, hardware, software, voice mail, telephones, networks, email, and internet access–in short, everything students need to achieve their educational goals and all the connections staff need to do their job.
Marshall possessed an easy-going demeanor, and an ability to remain calm in the face of diversity. Burton Schane, Administrative Systems Analyst, said, “He was extremely even-tempered. You always knew where you stood with him… No matter what was thrown at him, he remained calm. He calmed the waters.” President David Coon called him, “a genuinely nice guy”. Maryanne Kaehler, System Support Admnistrator, said, “He always had time for people, and he listened too. He really cared.”
One challenge Marshall faced was that his office was at the Indian Valley Campus, but many of the meetings he held and attended were located at the Kentfield. It was not unusual to see him working on his laptop in the Academic Center conference room from early in the morning to late in the day, during which time he would hold numerous meetings. Though some of the Academic Center’s office staff felt this was an invasion of space (who would have liked to use the conference room for their own meetings), Kaehler points out that this practice benefited the IT department: “… Communication among department employees was good and everyone in the department knew what everyone else was working on, and aware of anything important coming up that might affect their work.”
President Coon appreciates Marshall’s dedication to COM, despite the challenges Marshall faced in his job “… He had too many people reporting directly to him, and many times some of these people had their own agendas and opinions about how things should get done. He also lacked institutional support. But he was able to negotiate the stress of his position.” Kaehler also admired Marshall’s managerial style, “Marshall believed that “people will do well if you give them enough chances, and he tried hard to work with difficult employees… he really wanted to give his employees opportunities for learning.”
Some of the projects Marshall was working towards during his employment was a 5-year replacement plan for the college’s computers, as well as campus-wide wi-fi access and expansion of network and server capabilities.
President Coon fondly remembers a simple email exchange. He had emailed Marshall a little note after signing off on his performance evaluation, thanking Marshall for his dedication and good work, and Marshall had written back to President Coon telling him that no college president had ever thanked him before. “[The email exchange] was genuine on my part, genuine on his part. It’s a nice memory.”
“Every day was a blessing,” Linda Northcott said of her 28-year marriage to Marshall. He was romantic and affectionate. He routinely sent Linda flowers, poems and love notes. At one point in their marriage, he was stationed at a job in Hawaii for a year and a half while the family remained on the mainland.
“He called me every day and told me he loved me,” Linda recalls. “He never missed a day.” Marshall also supported his daughter Celeste’s running hobby. Whenever they had a race to run, he would rise at 3:30 a.m., drive them to their event, and cheer them on. He loved Linda’s daughter, Tonya, as his own. Tonya, who was seven years old when she first met Marshall, never called him daddy. “She called him M&M,” said Linda, “because he was so sweet.” Marshall also made a point to spend special time with his girls, often having “Daddy-Daughter Days,” and was the parent who helped them with their homework. Tonya named one of her sons after Marshall. Celeste, whose wedding was planned for July 27, pushed up her marriage to June 15, so that her father could witness her marriage. Even though she still had her planned ceremony with family and friends on July 27, the June 15 ceremony was the legal one, with the hospice chaplain performing the ceremony at Marshall’s home.
Marshall’s life is a testament that love is earned, not by empty words, but by deeds. Those who were fortunate to have their lives touched by him will always remember his kindness, dedication and commitment.