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A proud son remembers his father

The scribbled note on my desk at The Montgomery Advertiser said that Bob Veitch of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame had called. My heart rate quickened. I knew what he wanted, or at least I hoped I knew.

Senior Editor Phillip Marshall

I made the call and the words came. Benny Marshall, my father, had made it. He’d been elected to the Hall of Fame. In February of 1982, I was honored to stand and accept that honor in his name. That night is and always will be one of the highlights of my life.

Today, on Father’s day, the memories flood back. Some bring tears to my eyes. Some make me smile. Some make me laugh.

My father died almost 42 years ago, on Sept. 25, 1969. He was the most prominent sports writer in Alabama and the South and one of the finest in the nation. But that’s not what I remember.

I remember a man with a giant heart, great compassion and a capacity for feeling that I’ve never seen matched.

I remember a man walking across the front yard, carrying a Christmas tree and singing a cvarol.

I remember a man who told me “Whatever you do, no matter how bad it seems, remember I’m on your side.” And he meant it.

I remember a man who was never afraid to say “I love you. I care.”

I remember a man who taught me in troubled times that no man should be judged by the color of his skin.

I remember working as a copy boy in the sports department at The Birmingham News and seeing the respect and love all those who worked in the building had for him.

All these years later, I still cherish the late nights we spent in front of the television, eating ice cream and watching “The Untouchables.”

I chuckle when I remember his returning from trips and always bringing a present, usually from the gift shop at the Birmingham airport.

I remember sitting with him on the roof above the stands at Birmingham’s Rickwood Field, watching the Barons play.

I remember him sitting in my bedroom on a child’s rocking chair that I still have and singing songs he’d learned as a communications officer flying high over Sicily in World War II.

Benny Marshall didn’t fit the stereotype of the great American father. He didn’t take me hunting or fishing. He didn’t have time vacations in Florida.

The lessons my father taught were lessons of the heart. He taught me how to care. My father cared, and that’s what made his immense talent so unique. He lost with the losers. He celebrated with the winners.

When a little boy died after being hit with a baseball in a youth game, he put into words the suffering of the parents. That was because he suffered, too.

My father was a big, big man in his world. He knew he could write, but he was never a big man to himself. The day he died, the only violent act of his life turned on himself, plunged me into darkness that didn’t lift for a long time.

Bennett Davis Marshall, you see, was more than my father. He was my very best friend. I promised him one day when I was a teen-ager that, when I had a son, his name would be Bennett Davis Marshall II. I was able to keep that promise. I tried to teach my three children, who never knew their grandfather, the lessons my father taught me.

I knew of no better way to honor the man who taught me to be a man.

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