- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Donn Marshall, founder and chairman of the Shelley A. Marshall Foundation.

Question: When did you know that your wife of seven years did not survive the September 11 terrorist attack against the Pentagon?
Answer: We didn't know conclusively until the evening of September 14. We had planned to attend a candlelight vigil being held outside of Shelley's parents' home in Vienna, when we got the call that rescue workers had been in the part of the building where my wife's offices were located. There were no survivors.
Shelley worked at the Pentagon in the Defense Intelligence Agency's Office of the Comptroller. DIA personnel have been really outstanding in supporting me and Shelley's family and honoring the memory of the seven staff members who lost their lives that day.
The following day, the agency sent a grief counselor over to talk with Shelley's family and with me. He said, "Give your sorrow meaning. It's the most important thing you can do." As soon as he said that, a light went off and I decided to establish the Shelley A. Marshall Foundation to do good things for others.
My first thought was to establish a children's story hour, since Shelley loved to read to our children. Shelley would get up at 4:30 a.m. so she could help us and then she worked a nine-hour day. We both had a two-hour commute to work and home. Then she would make dinner and get the kids ready for bed and make time to read to them. She loved to read to the children it must have been that look of curiosity on their faces and the sparkle in their eyes.
I kept thinking, "What can we do to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again?" I thought about the light in the children's eyes when they learn something new or make a discovery. I thought to myself, "Interest them in reading, because it's festering ignorance that brings about events like September 11."
It's my gut feeling, if you teach children to cherish books and love reading and learning, that can and will make a difference. It only takes one Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. to change the world.
Q: What are some of the foundation's projects?
A: We're doing several things. Story hours for children are one component. I went to my hometown in Morgantown, West Virginia, and we set up a story hour for children at the Morgantown Public Library. It's more of a read-aloud hour, you know, a person who might read a Dr. Seuss book to the children.
Then, I approached the folks at the Patrick Henry Library in Vienna in October, and they came up with the storytelling concert series idea.
I thought to myself, "This is great. Here's an old tradition storytelling that we can support. In this day of Palm pilots and DVDs, here's the power of the human voice telling a story." What a great thing that you can make that much of a difference with one person talking to others. Especially in the aftermath of September 11 the inhumanity of it all and stories cross all borders of race and ethnicities.
We kicked off the storytelling concert series at the Patrick Henry Library in Vienna with "Stories and Songs from the British Isles." The audience was so diverse, and it was well-attended. So the evening turned out perfectly. I'm very excited and I hope to present storytelling concert programs that feature Chinese stories and African stories just a wide array.
We're also hosting tea parties at nursing homes in Annandale, Virginia, and Morgantown, West Virginia. In each case, we have gone to local high schools to recruit volunteers, and we've asked the National Honor Societies to get involved in this cause.
I've told the students all they have to do is sit down and talk with the seniors. We will serve the scones and tea. The senior citizens enjoy the conversations so much, they literally cried.
All of the cups and saucers have been donated because we went on line to various tea chat rooms and explained what we were doing. So now we have 130-odd pieces of fine china and the seniors are just thrilled. We hosted our first tea party at the Sundale Nursing Home in Morgantown, West Virginia, on Feb. 23, and then we hosted one at the Sleepy Hollow Manor Nursing Home in Annandale on March 17. We're planning to have the tea parties every three months.
We've also endowed creative-writing awards at Oakton High School in Vienna that's the school Shelley attended and at her alma mater, George Mason University in Fairfax. And we've set up creative-writing awards at my alma mater, Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, and at my high school, Morgantown.
The common thread is we're trying to inspire and enrich the spirit. There are already plenty of charities that can clothe and feed a body, and we'll leave that to them, but I'll work on making people realize their potential. I'll work on making people smile. You know, this is an all-volunteer effort. This is all grass-roots and it's great.
Q: What were a few of Mrs. Marshall's favorite stories or books?
A: Well, she collected books on Eleanor Roosevelt, and she was also a mystery fan. She read a lot of mysteries and she enjoyed beautifully illustrated books about tea.
She was very into tea and tea parties. The nice thing about the foundation's activities is that they mirror Shelley's interests. Shelley used to throw tea parties for me and the kids on weekends. She could have used paper products, but she pulled out the good stuff. Last week, I found a little note pad and she jotted this down, "We only have a finite number of days on earth. Make each day extraordinary and fill it with passion."
Q: What were some of your wife's characteristics?
A: Shelley was a passionate person. Once she learned enough about a subject, she would become an advocate on behalf of a cause or she would argue vehemently against it.
She was the kind of person I could depend on to tell the unvarnished truth about everything. You could count on her to be honest. She enjoyed doing cross-stitch and after the children were born, making scrapbooks to record our memories.
She was passionate about her work doing the right thing and was meticulous with details. She got the work done correctly the first time. More than anything, she was a loving person. I know that no husband was better loved than I was. I know that those kids she still loves them.
Q: Do your children get involved in the foundation events?
A: Yes, we had a Web site launch party in February, and my son, Drake, pushed the button to start the Web site. And they attended the first of our tea parties and the storytelling concert series.
My son, who is 4, practices saying, "Thank you for coming to Mommy's foundation." Actually, both of them say it. They've seen me greet guests at the beginning of the events, and now they're doing it. They have play microphones, and they practice while I cook dinner.
Q: Have you given any thought to future foundation events and activities?
A: Right now, we're planning a gala on September 7 at Selma Plantation near Leesburg, Virginia. That's where Shelley and I were married in 1994. It will be a fund-raising event, and we're going to have an real auction and a silent auction, too, but we're still in the early stages of planning.
It will be an evening event, probably black tie, and hopefully, we can get some artists to donate some artwork. Recently, we got commitments from a jeweler and a furniture store and that's just in the first week of batting some ideas around. The Selma Plantation is really a wonderful place to have a fund-raiser, and you'll be able to see my son in a tux and my daughter in a ball gown. That's one of the aspects of the foundation beyond making others happy this is one of the ways the children get to know their mom, her spirit and know that she will always be with them.
Q: What does the Shelley A. Marshall Foundation need?
A: We would like to encourage people to donate. We have a Web site, www.shelleysfoundation.org, that gives instructions on how to donate online or by mail. And I can be reached at 703/231-3607 if anyone has any questions.
The Web site has a calendar of events and a page about Shelley. She had penned a few short stories, and I put those on the Web site, too. I also included remarks people made during her memorial service.
We can always use money, teacups and saucers. What I'd like to do in the future is partner with more nursing homes and high schools, but we need money and expertise to do that. We can build up expertise over time, and hopefully, we will receive additional funding.
The foundation bears Shelley's name, and I'm not going to do anything that might fail so it will work. I'm going to take Shelley's advice and make each day extraordinary for as many people as possible.

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