The day before he died, Bill Marshall was concerned about waking up early and making his bed. He was always eager to get the day going, said Marilyn Vancil, his daughter.
“He told me he didn’t like mornings, because if he woke up too late, he felt behind if he hadn’t shaved and made his bed and emptied the dishwasher yet. He wanted to contribute,” Vancil said.
Marshall — a businessman, veteran and philanthropist in the Vancouver community — died April 12 at his son’s home in Salem, Ore. He was 101 years old.
“He lived a great life,” Vancil said. “He touched a lot of people, and they touched him. It was mutual.”
Marshall was born July 22, 1921, in Seattle, the youngest of four children to parents William Matthew and Cora Nell Marshall, who ran a boarding house in the city during the Great Depression.
While Marshall was growing up, his parents instilled in him a strong work ethic and sense of pride, which led him to join the U.S. Army Air Corps following high school. He became a P-47 fighter pilot and flew 97 missions out of Pisa, Italy, during World War II.
Marshall had a way of telling harrowing stories in a positive, light manner — such as the time his plane was shot down near enemy territory on his 94th mission, 10 days before Nazi troops surrendered in Italy.
“So I just came in very nicely and got a little scrape on my arm,” Marshall told The Columbian in 2018 at his retirement home in Vancouver. “I’ve got hurt worse on roller skates than I did that day.”
In 1948, three years after the war, Marshall met his future wife, Barbara Ewing, in Seattle on a blind date set up through mutual friends. Within a year, the couple had married and moved to Vancouver so Marshall could work at the Ford dealership, which he would later come to own for many years.
Marshall quickly moved his way up to owner, and customers came to know him as a friendly, humble and approachable man who could outtalk any salesman — but you wouldn’t mind listening.
“He was the nicest car dealer in town and always treated everyone with so much respect,” Vancil said. “He just was a good person, and people loved being cared for by him.”
During this time, Marshall and his wife became active residents of Vancouver and frequently donated to local organizations, particularly those focused on youth. The two had three children: Greg Marshall, Vancil, and Charlie Marshall.
In 1966, Marshall received the Clark County First Citizen Award, given to a county resident for outstanding contributions to the community. Two years later, he helped spearhead the “Operation Quagmire” project at Kiggins Field, which added lights and replaced sod on the field.
For more than 70 years, Marshall enjoyed living in Vancouver, and though he would frequently be recognized in public, he never sought recognition for his work, Vancil said.
Vancil said her father’s memory outmatched her own, and he had an impressive ability to keep in touch with friends and family he hadn’t seen in years.
“His address book was full, and he was still calling people to the end and telling them, ‘Hey, you need to call so-and-so,'” she said. “He had an unbelievable memory. He would remember who lived on what street and what their name was and who they married.”
In 1996, Barbara Marshall died. A few years later, Bill Marshall married Dolores Hill, whom he had known since high school.
The couple lived in Vancouver leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the same year that Hill died. Marshall quickly made friends at a Vancouver retirement home, even rallying other residents to form a team of bean bag baseball players.
In 2020, Marshall moved to Salem to live with his youngest son, Charlie, where he most of his time calling friends and playing with his grandchildren. He was always moving, Vancil said.
“He would do tea parties with them and chase them around the house with his walker, and he rolled around the house. He was just a fun person,” Vancil said.
Marshall’s family is requesting contributions for a memorial to be sent to the Hough Foundation, 205 E. 11th St., Suite 200, Vancouver, WA 98660.
A celebration of life is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 29 at the First Presbyterian Church, 4300 Main St. in Vancouver.
“We’re serving ice cream, because he had a bowl of ice cream after dinner almost every day of his life,” Vancil said.
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