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Above all else, she was dedicated and involved -- as a state senator, a mother of six, an active community member and a lifelong churchgoer.

Shirley Marsh, former state senator and wife of former Nebraska Secretary of State, State Treasurer and Lt. Gov. Frank Marsh, died Sunday at age 88. Frank Marsh died in 2001.

Sen. Marsh, who identified as a pro-choice Republican, was sworn in as the only female state senator in 1973, serving with Jerome Warner, Richard Marvel, Ernie Chambers, Eugene Mahoney, John DeCamp and Terry Carpenter. Marsh served District 29 in south Lincoln from 1973 to 1989.

In her 16 years, Marsh sponsored legislation dealing with equal employment, smoking limits (she was allergic to cigarette smoke), seat belts and child abuse.

Her passion for women’s and children’s issues led Marsh to earn her bachelor’s degree in social work in 1972 and then her executive master's of business administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1978. She worked with Lancaster County Child Protective Services, which sparked her desire to make legislative changes, said her daughter Sherry Tupper.

Tupper remembers her mother as passionate.

“She was game to try anything,” she said. From climbing to the top of a firefighters’ extension ladder just for fun to delivering pizzas for money to fund her trip around Europe, Marsh was open to experiences.

At age 30, with five children, a bout of polio left her partially paralyzed from the waist down.

She and Frank would work through her physical therapy exercises on the living room floor, Tupper remembers. She walked with crutches for years, until she gained the strength and mobility to walk on her own again.

The list of titles Marsh held is exhaustive: president of the National Order of Women Legislators; trustee of the Community Health Endowment; and numerous other positions in various government and community groups.

“I look at that list and I honestly say, ‘How could someone have done all that?’” said Frank and Shirley’s son Dory Marsh.

In a 2010 interview, Shirley Marsh said it could be difficult for women to run for office and then to serve.

"You have to have an understanding family," she said. "I was fortunate. My family was cheering me on."

No matter how many organization or church or PTA or Girl Scouts meetings she had in a day, Marsh always managed to have three meals on the table set for eight people -- and more, including the foreign exchange students the Marshes hosted almost every year for five decades.

She’d do the cooking, but the kids had to do the cleanup. There was a rotating chore list she’d set up, and it was up to the kids to figure out any changes or job swaps.

“She was just amazing -- all the things she did and still managed to be a fair and involved mother,” Tupper said.

Tupper lives in Andover, Mass. She last visited her mother last month. She was sitting in her room when Tupper came in. Marsh turned and said something Tupper said was just so typical.

Word for word, it’s what Dory remembers about visits to his mom as well.

“I hadn’t realized it until after she was gone," he said, "but that’s what she did for us and everyone she knew for all her life.

“She’d always ask, ‘Honey, is there anything I can do for you?’”


Funeral information in Obituaries, page B4.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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