Royal Marshall's family commemorates fifth anniversary of his death via charity

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Monday, January 18, 2016

Although it's been five years since Royal Marshall passed away from a heart attack, the radio host and sidekick to Neal Boortz remains a tangible presence to his friends and family.

"I still feel like he's gone on vacation and will just walk around the corner," said Belinda Skelton, who worked with Boortz for many years as his producer. Marshall was Boortz's engineer by title but his comic foil and moral  antenna at times as well. She still feels Marshall is around playing tricks on her and "sometimes, I'll go, 'Enough Royal!' "

And Marshall's now nine-year-old daughter Amira commemorated her dad's memory by jumping rope for the American Heart Association at her school Woodward Academy in South Fulton County last Friday. Her seven-year-old sister Ava joined in as well.

The school holds this jump-roping fundraiser every year, but it happened to fall on the fifth anniversary of Marshall's sudden death. So Amira went on a fundraising tear. She collected $2,800, including $1,220 from Marshall's former colleagues at News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB.

"It's a good cause," said Annette Marshall, Royal's widow, a chief compliance officer at a local finance company. She takes the day off from work on his anniversary every year, which gave her time to spend the afternoon at the school.

She said she didn't sleep the night before. "I sometimes want to hear his voice," she said. "So I listen to his recordings. He was trying to be a stand-up comedian and would practice his jokes. I"d hear him laugh at himself. I'd look at pictures."

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Coping with his death on this day, she said, is different each year. As of that afternoon, she said she had teared up a bit but "the floodgates haven't opened.. yet. I'm holding up."

Still, "it's hard," she added. "I still feel there should have been something I could have done to save him."

If Royal were here today, she said, "he'd be out there mixing with the kids. He would have been here to coordinate."

Amira, she said, is pretty reserved, a lot like her. But Ava is more like Royal in spirit, she said.

"She wants to be on TV. She wants to be discovered."

Belinda added: "She's a little fireball. I remember Royal saying even when she was just two, "Oh, she's trouble! She's like me!' "

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Annette, after her husband's death, stopped listening to the radio for years. Only recently had she started doing so again. Her kids were getting tired of the silence so she now puts on Radio Disney or Kidz Bop.

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

I told Annette the last time I saw Royal was in December, 2010 at a special March of Dimes fundraiser honoring Boortz. At the time, Boortz said he wanted to stay on air for 50 years, or another nine years. But after Marshall's passing, it wasn't nearly as fun for Boortz and he chose to retire from full-time work two years later. He now lives in Naples and travels part of the year, much of it in an RV while providing short takes for WSB and his own subscription-only podcast.

Marshall had his own night-time radio show for several years on WSB. His producer Rahul Bali, a friend of mine, said he had the most fun on radio goofing around with Marshall. But he said Marshall's death forced him to look at his own life and he has since lost weight and gotten himself healthier. On his last trip to Atlanta in November, he visited Annette and the kids just to make sure they were okay.

Lonnis Allen, a Channel 2 Action News editor and Marshall's best friend, came by the fundraiser as well. "I think about him often," he said. "Every time I play golf, I think of different sayings he would say to make me laugh. Whenever I do something crazy, he'd make that laugh. That laugh was his thing."

UPDATE: Boortz didn't have my number so when I texted him on Friday, he didn't know it was me. He finally figured it out and called me Tuesday night, January 19. He said he still thinks about Marshall often. "His death is the toughest one for me," he said, more so than his parents or sister because they had suffered from dementia and their deaths were not unexpected.

He refuses to delete Marshall's number from his phone. "Annette will call me from his phone and when I see his name come up, it freaks me out," he said.

If you want to get teary again, watch this tribute to him from 2011. Just damn!