Farewell, Marshall

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Marshall Fritz died November 4th, and the freedom movement is the poorer.

While living, Marshall was larger than life. Large physically, this remarkable man had that mysterious quality, a "presence," that would dominate whatever group he entered--in a benevolent way, of course. To the extent that curmudgeonly individualist libertarians have a leader, he was it. And now he is gone, having lost his second battle with cancer.

He won the first, a few years ago, and the only explanation I can think of for the headgear shown in the nearby photograph is that he wished not to be seen bald, which is presumably how that battle left him. Had he worn such a garment in his days as a hotshot IBM salesman, that part of his career would have been shorter. As to his choice of style, perhaps it resembles the curious square-shaped cap often worn by country priests in France, and Marshall came awfully close to joining them (though in California, not France) when he nearly entered a seminary in his sixties. Fortunately for us, he backed off.

The second battle was not winnable; he was given, earlier this year, a few months to live and he announced the fact in an unforgettable one-liner: "I've picked up a wee touch of terminal pancreatic cancer." His next act was to publish a lengthy and remarkable bucket list. As you'll see, that page begins "I'm terminal. So are you. We need to sort out what's important and get it done."

I've not seen Marshall Fritz in 20 years, and we e-corresponded only occasionally, but undoubtedly as with many others he had a big effect on my life. In the mid-1980s, he was on the warpath to get libertarians on the electoral ballot, and he led a team of energetic volunteers to tour the country to raise one state LP after another to that status; inevitably, this was the "Marshall Plan." He came to us in Connecticut , I recall, from Omaha . Yes, the team succeeded; its members' enthusiasm was infectious. One Saturday afternoon he gave its members a few hours of R&R, at an LPCer's home near a lake; on seeing a speedboat approach a public dock, he ambled over and engaged the owner in conversation. Fifteen minutes later, he had persuaded him--a total stranger!--to take relays of the team members out for high-speed fun rides on the water.

I can portray this warrior for liberty best by a few other glimpses like that one, as in a kind of slide show.

That team met with other LPC volunteers at my home under Marshall 's leadership, and it was while there that he enquired after my welfare and learned I was job-hunting without much luck. He said nothing, but stored the news away. A few weeks later he telephoned and said, "Can you come to Chicago tomorrow?"

The reason was twofold. He was then managing Steve Givot's campaign for (I think) US Senate and had assembled over a dozen volunteers to camp out in Steve's magnificent home--I was to join them and lend a hand. But also, Marshall had met a man on a flight from Vegas whom he said I should also meet; having told his fellow-traveler about the Advocates for Self-Government, he left the plane with a $1,000 donation (!) and an agreement to meet again. So I joined them, and met Stan Golomb, with whom I had a profitable business relationship for the next two decades until he died--all on the basis of a handshake. Thus did Marshall fulfill a promise to me that he never audibly made.

Next slide: an LP Convention. It might have been in Philadelphia , I forget. Marshall got a few helpers together to put on a stage show for the final evening's entertainment; he played the part of a king, with others acting as his economic advisors, and the plot was to demonstrate how even a benevolent monarch can ruin any economy by spending money he doesn't have, but how sound money can pull it all together again. At least, I think the plot was something like that; Marshall dressed up in a Viking helmet (an inverted metal bowl with two prongs) and equipped his cast with no more than one microphone, which had to be passed around! The play was a disaster, for nobody behind the first few rows could hear what was going on--but it was all in good humor, and when the final bow was taken, the band struck up and half the audience ran to the dance floor. Not Marshall's finest hour--yet after all these years, those very amateur theatrics would, if Ben Bernanke had seen and understood them, be helping solve a major current crisis in real life.

Next slide: the Pioneer Christian Academy in Fresno , CA was a Fritz foundation. Marshall was no slouch regarding libertarian theory, but above all he was a man of action; so as well as starting the Alliance for the Separation of School and State and getting a wide range of distinguished supporters to sign up, he put his belief in non-government schools into action by creating one which welcomed, among others, the very dregs of Fresno youth--upon whom the government system had completely given up. At first it was run without structure, though after a term or two of almost uninterrupted chaos, he did implement some modest discipline so that a little learning could take place; in good humor, the students decried the change as "Marshall Law." Pioneer Christian too wasn't an unqualified success--but the point is that Marshall pioneered, he didn't just theorize.

Final slide: perhaps every reader here has met the diamond-shaped questionnaire known as the World's Shortest Political Quiz. Originally designed by David Nolan, Marshall put it into widespread use by his Advocates for Self-Government. Of all his achievements, that organization comes closest, as I see it, to what is needed to implement a free society--for it aims to educate, and universal re-education is the sine qua non of liberty.

Marshall was a very earnest Roman Catholic, at which point we parted company; he wasn't about to debate the matter, so after a short while I stopped trying and so the contradiction implicit in Romans 12 and 13 remains unresolved. At the same time, we can recognize firstly that it was that Church alone which in the past century and a half has most effectively resisted government's monstrous indoctrination of the young, with its network of parochial schools; and secondly that Marshall put his persuader where his beliefs were and attracted several leading priests to join the Alliance . If each of us were as effective as he in translating theory into action, there would be no stopping our movement.

My last substantive encounter with Marshall was in 2006, when I asked him to critique the Education segment in TOLFA. When he told me it was good enough, I knew we had a winner.

Yes, Marshall, we are all terminal, and we do need to "sort out what's important and get it done." Thanks for the huge range of achievements that you got done.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?"