Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Bob Marshall

Bob Marshall has accomplished many things in life and has a very rich background. The former four-sport athlete at Kansas went on to be a state senator, military veteran, pilot and athletic director. The glue that ties all these things together is a degree from the University of Kansas in 1960.

“Kansas was a wonderful place. They provided great education and it was a wonderful town,” said Marshall.

Marshall arrived in Lawrence as a freshman in 1955 and began his illustrious athletic career. During his first year on campus Marshall participated in junior varsity basketball, baseball and football as freshman weren’t allowed to play varsity at the time. 

The highlight from this year would be on the basketball court as Marshall was a member of the final team coached by Forrest C. “Phog” Allen. Alongside Marshall would be another KU legend in the making. Standing 7-feet tall, hailing from Philadelphia was a young man named Wilt Chamberlain, who Marshall says was a great man and easy to be around.

Entering Marshall’s sophomore season, he separated his shoulder during a football game in which he played quarterback. “I played through the injury, but I felt like I’d be better off if I didn’t play basketball that season and got in shape for baseball,” said Marshall.

Little did he know at the time, but another athletic opportunity would open a new door as injury closed a different one.

“The best sprinter on the track team was dismissed from school,” stated Marshall. “The coaches came to football practice looking for the fastest guys on the team so Homer Floyd and I went and ran indoor track. I competed in the 60-yard dash.”

His natural athleticism let him excel in baseball, basketball and track, but Marshall enjoyed football which ultimately led him to pick Kansas for college.

“I was either going to attend the University of Kansas or go to the Naval Academy. Eventually, KU offered a football scholarship and I came to Lawrence,” said Marshall.

It was on the football field where Marshall separated himself as a standout athlete. He was named starting quarterback as a sophomore and earned honorable mention All-Big Seven Conference accolades. He also set a KU record for the longest punt return (90 yards) which remained a record for over 30 years. According to Marshall, one thing he was really proud of was being named co-captain of the football team his senior year. The leadership Marshall showed on the football field carried over to the classroom as he set the standard for a student-athlete.

“I never missed a class at college,” Marshall said “I felt going to class was an important thing to do. I felt it would keep me focused and out of trouble. I took academics very seriously because I knew the importance of a good education. KU had great teachers in the engineering department and they definitely knew how to get the best out of you.”

During his time at Kansas, football and academics weren’t the only things Marshall participated in. He was also in the Marine program which eventually led to a career upon graduation.

“I was a Marine platoon leader while at KU,” said Marshall. “I was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Marine Corps the day I graduated. My goal became to fly in the Marine Corps which I accomplished in 1962.”

Marshall’s stint with the Marines lasted three years and included a tour in the Far East.

Once his active military duty ended in 1965, Marshall became a commercial pilot for the next 33 years. “I loved that job,” Marshall said with his voice getting excited.

“That job allowed me to travel all over the world and meet new people everywhere I went. I was able to go places and see things I would have never been able to see if I hadn’t been a pilot.” Some of his favorite locations included the Caribbean and South America.

Marshall held the job as a commercial pilot until he reached the age of 60 which forced retirement from the Federal Aviation Administration. Marshall would use the leadership skills found on the football field to join a group of over 100 pilots who filed a lawsuit against the FAA.

“We were trying to get the mandatory retirement age moved to 65. We weren’t successful, but the FAA eventually moved it to 65 years later, but it was too late for me because I was already past that age,” said Marshall.

Retirement usually is accompanied by long days at the golf course or picking up a new hobby, but Marshall needed something specific to do.

“I’m one of those people who constantly needs something to work on. I enjoy staying busy and I really enjoy meeting new people while working,” Marshall described.

Thus, after he retired from the airlines, Marshall headed to Fort Scott, Kan., and volunteered as an assistant coach with the football team at Fort Scott Community College. He served as a coach for five seasons until the school’s president offered Marshall a new job. “They asked if I wanted to become the athletic director which I thought at the time I’d hold the position for a long time.”

Marshall remained the athletic director until an entirely different position opened up in 2008. “I was elected into the Kansas Senate and represented the 13th District covering the southeast corner of the state,” Marshall explained.

Marshall would make the most of his time in office as he served on numerous committees that covered topics including transportation, education and local government. For Marshall, being on a committee for education allowed him to give back to the school that provided his own education. “I was able to come back to Lawrence and work with KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little to secure additional funds for the engineering program at KU, Kansas State University and Wichita State University,” said Marshall.

After five years in politics, Marshall retired from the Kansas senate in 2013. Currently, he remains on several local committees and makes the trip to Lawrence as often as he can. “I love coming back and try to do so frequently,” said Marshall, who recently participated in the Bonnie Henrickson golf tournament and is a frequent attendee at Memorial Stadium and Allen Fieldhouse on KU gamedays. “I loved my time at KU and love the town of Lawrence.”

When asked if he had any advice for current Jayhawk students or future students Marshall stated, “Take advantage of every contact you ever meet. Truly get to know people and follow up with them. Be involved in things and don’t stay within yourself. Go out and get involved with your community.”

Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk.

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