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 Stories for May 6, 1998:

Regular Features:

Farewell to Berkeleyan Editor Fran Marsh

by Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs
posted May. 6, 1998

Berkeleyan founding editor Fran Marsh explained her intricate filing and tracking systems for articles and photos, and passed on her massive ball of string, before departing Public Affairs’ Oxford Street office for the last time April 24.

Packing her dictionaries, photos, AP style book, campus organizational charts and other office memorabilia, she headed for her new job across the Bay, as director of public affairs at UC Hastings College of Law.

Although her years at Berkeley came to a close April 24, the memories of her personal and editorial influence continue.

After holding a number of editorial and public affairs positions at institutions on the East Coast, Berkeley hired Marsh in 1984 to edit a new campus newspaper for faculty and staff.

In January 1985 she launched the new eight-page Berkeleyan, typing the first issue on an IBM typewriter.

Bill McDonald, former director of publications and media design at Berkeley, hired Marsh. “Fran had the right skill set for Berkeleyan – focus, attention to detail, thick skin and a great dry sense of humor,” he said. “Her best headlines, and there were many, were classically witty, combining humor and intelligence.”

During her 13 years as editor, Marsh acquired an invaluable knowledge of campus personalities, lore, acronyms and spelling irregularities, and adeptly guided hundreds of issues of Berkeleyan from conception to print.

“Fran always played a behind-the-scenes role,” said Marie Felde, former Berkeleyan executive editor, “but her contribution was front and center in every issue. She cared about her work and about the Berkeleyan, and the campus was the beneficiary.

“It also benefited from her wit,” added Felde. “Only from Fran could you get the headline ‘I Compute, Therefore I Am – Or Am I?’ to lure you into a story on a lecture to mull the first 50 years of artificial intelligence.”

The photo archive she built and fiercely protected is legendary.

“I have been a writer and editor for a long time,” said California Monthly managing editor William Rodarmor, “and Fran Marsh is the only person in publications I actively fear. I have been abjectly dependent on her superb collection of Cal-related photos. I willingly signed my name in blood whenever I borrowed one – and then would live in dread that my designers or prepress house would lose the photo before I could get it safely back into Fran’s outstretched hand.”

Rodarmor described Marsh, originally from Florida, as “a southern lady in the same sense that Ghenghis Kahn is a Mongol: they define and explode the category. When it comes to the quiet exercise of raw will power, Fran Marsh makes ‘Steel Magnolias’ look like wilted posies.”

Briefly in 1997, under the byline “FM,” Marsh wrote “Taking Note,” a column of campus vignettes – from office refrigerator clean-ups to the redecoration of 150 University Hall, “site of Regent meetings of yore” – that epitomized her desire to promote a sense of campus community.

“I viewed Berkeleyan as a service to departments, to disseminate departmental information, and for the staff,” says Marsh. “I wanted the newspaper to enlighten people about their neighbors at work.”

Marsh claims to have started her string ball during the budget crisis of the early ‘90s. Saving string from the printer’s bundles of Berkeleyan each week, her ball fattened over the years until it was more than two feet in diameter. Like the plant in “Little Shop of Horrors,” the slowly expanding ball of string often elicited gasps or chuckles from those discovering it for the first time. Though she always said she would leave campus when the ball grew big enough to oust her from her cubicle, in the end she bequeathed it to a co-worker.

Asked how she will use her copious and detailed notes on the daily developments at Berkeley, Marsh, with characteristic discretion, quoted the opening line of “Out of Africa,” in which Baroness Karen Blixen begins her memoir, “I had a farm in Africa....”

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