The obit said it clearly, Larry Marion was born in Charlottesville, Virginia but it felt incorrect. How could he be from anywhere but Giles? It seemed as though Larry Marion just came up out of our mountains, like the old cabbage patch stories in the 80s. Mr. Marion was so deeply ingrained into the community that it feels odd there was a time when he was not yet ours.
The first thing you noticed about Larry Marion was the twinkle in his eye. Then, the grin. And then, you realized he almost sang when he talked, a subtle melody in every phrase. Larry was the type of man communities need. He found Joyce and she brought him to our little town. He jumped in with his whole soul to Pearisburg, Virginia and in turn the town swallowed him up. The two had a symbiotic relationship. Larry, or Mr. Marion, had this relationship with so much – he pulled in people and things in a manner that he became part of them. He was so tightly woven to his passions: his wife, his daughter, Pearisburg UMYF, Giles Chorale, church choir, and his grandchildren.
For me, Larry Marion was all the institutions of life rolled into one. He was the high school, the church and community. He wasn’t perfect but he was jolly and kind. Larry, or Mr. Marion had an effect on people that resulted in a desire to belong to whatever thing or event he was doing. We all wanted to be in his sphere whether it was UMYF or chorale. He had a way of creating experiences we wanted to share.
In seventh grade youth group began. I walked by the couch filled room in our church for years, wanting to be with the big kids, wanting to be with the adults. The adults all laughed and had so much fun. I wanted to be around their laughter. Mr. Marion, along with his wife and friends faithfully showed up every Sunday at 5:00 to give us a space to play knockout, learn, and gather. It helped provide a foundation for the greatest love I’ve ever known in Jesus.
Larry was the type of man that drew people in. I remember seeing the announcement for Chorale try outs and feeling a desire to be a part of this group. There was a small problem, I couldn’t really sing. After talking with my sister I gathered enough courage to try out. I scribbled my name on the sign up sheet in the hallway outside of the GHS cafeteria and then felt like throwing up out of nervousness. I tried out and felt so embarrassed at my lack of range. But much to my amazement – he pulled me into the group as a second soprano and it was an honor to be in his crew.
Mr. Marion filled his classroom with toys and figurines. The California Raisins, smurfs, and treasure trolls lined any ledge. In a world filled with competition and busy schedules his class, fifth period chorale was a place to let loose and sing. He smiled the entire time when he conducted the teenage voices, pulling on the altos, nodding to the tenors. He had a small smile the entire class. He cracked jokes with Mrs. Noble and we practiced harmonies and enunciating the R just right and rubbing out our accents on the classical pieces. He loved music. Mr. Marion provided the soundtrack to our small town. He signed us up to sing at the Veteran’s Day celebration, Memorial day, Easter Sunrise (and we fell through the floor!) Christmas, Sundays. He could not exist apart from making music, making beauty. Each of these events required him to load and carry equipment often times in stifling heat. He set up speakers and pianos in the blazing heat in his cumber bun and bowtie making sure the sound was just right. Many people would have foregone the speakers and thought having the choir there was enough, but not Larry.
This week he passed away. When I explained his role in our lives to my husband it occurred to me how extravagant Mr. Marion was with his gifts, time, and heart. Mr. Marion made and gave and my goodness he worked.
He made music, made space for teenagers and then he gave it all. He gave his weekends, his hours, his sleep. He drove us to Gatlinburg and Chicago, New York City and small choral competitions. He offered up prayers and chuckles, even if we were sitting on the highway with a broken down church bus.
Larry organized opportunities for students and youth group members to work and earn for trips around the country. He understood the financial situation of most families in the area juxtaposed against his desire to provide students experiences. It is unclear how he managed to get the contract to mow the town cemetery but every week, there he was mowing with the youth group around the old headstones, once again with those twinkly eyes and sweat. Every Friday home football game, he organized the Bandanna Bar for choir students to earn the money for the annual trip. So many of us may never have experience New York or Chicago and other experiences apart from his organization and instigation.
His generosity lead many to ministry and others to sing professionally. I imagine his influence now hits every continent. And all this, for a man we were given.
I’ve been reflecting on the roles people play in a small town. How our tiny slice of Appalachia may not limit in the ways people think it does. For Mr. Marion, he became the type of teacher and civic leader of stories. I’ve watched this week’s facebook has filled with prayers for healing and peace for the Marions. He is gone, and we are heartbroken for him and the family he leaves behind. Thank you for sharing him with us we are all better because of it. (The spring of Mr. Marion’s retirement I went to his classroom to photograph his last days as an official teacher. I’m so glad I did, I hope you can see a bit of his twinkle below)
We ended every Youth Group with the Irish Blessing and I’m not sure how to end this ramble jamble so it seems right and good. To leave scripture in hearts and a song on the lips is a life lived to the full.
The Lord Bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and bring you peace.