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Remembering Marshall Ward

Marshall Ward and his wrestling collection. Photograph by David Bebee

Colin Hunter, longtime friend of Marshall Ward, reflects on the day they met each other (and met Ozzy Osbourne), sparking a 25-year friendship.

Ozzy Osbourne was the second-most interesting person I met in Toronto one chilly autumn day in 1998.

While shivering on the sidewalk outside Sunrise Records awaiting the rock star’s arrival for an autograph signing, I struck up a conversation with the guy waiting in line to my left. He looked the part of a metalhead – long brown hair, scraggly beard, Black Sabbath tattoos on each arm – but he was disarmingly eloquent and polite.

I went to meet a rock star and unwittingly met the man who would become my best friend.

Marshall Ward – artist, columnist, filmmaker, podcaster, educator, community booster and the proudest stay-at-home dad you’d ever meet – died unexpectedly in Waterloo at age 52 on Dec. 3, 2023. It happened to be Ozzy Osbourne’s 75th birthday.

Marshall and I got our autographs that day a quarter-century ago, shunted like cattle with hundreds of other fans past the bedraggled rocker as he scribbled “Ozzy” with gold Sharpie on anything placed in front of him. Ozzy did pause to chuckle at the item Marshall brought to get signed: a mid-1970s magazine photo of Black Sabbath in which Ozzy’s index finger is inserted into the left nostril of drummer Bill Ward.

I think mostly of Marshall, not of Ozzy, when I look at the framed photo, which now hangs beside my desk.

I remember how Marshall and I talked for hours that day in 1998 – and most days over the decades that followed – about our uncannily divergent passions: music, writing, filmmaking, astronomy, comedy, and especially our shared lifelong fandom of theatrical pseudo-sport professional wrestling.

To readers of the Waterloo Chronicle newspaper, Marshall was the author of the weekly “Marshall Arts” column for about 15 years, a platform he devoted to showcasing the work of creative people other than himself – hundreds of them over the years.

In 2019 Marshall co-created the Bonn Park Podcast, a hyper-local chat show in which he and neighbour Sara Geidlinger interviewed more than 200 everyday heroes of Waterloo Region. In every episode, Marshall’s empathy and curiosity are in full swing, no matter the guest or the subject matter. Marshall approached every conversation with the same selfless inquisitiveness, whether interviewing an unhoused person or a rock star (although he never did interview Ozzy, Marshall did talk several times with Bill Ward, the drummer up whose nose Ozzy’s finger was inserted in the autographed photo).

Thousands of Marshall’s newspaper columns – each sleeved in plastic and bound chronologically in black binders, as was Marshall’s fastidious way – were displayed at Waterloo’s Erb & Good Funeral Home during Marshall’s celebration of life, along with other mementos of his peculiar personality: paintings from his art exhibitions, WWF wrestling toys, his Twilight Zone boxed set, a Pac-Man machine for mourners to play, an Ozzy Osbourne action figure.

The ceremony was relocated to the largest room of the funeral home when it became clear how many people would show up, and it was still a shoulder-to-shoulder happening of artists, friends, politicians, students, admirers, a mayor, university deans, a celebrity chef and fascinating people from every facet of Kitchener-Waterloo’s creative community. One after another spoke of how Marshall took genuine interest in their stories when few others would and amplified their voices.

A memorial article by Joel Rubinoff about Marshall in the Waterloo Region Record reads: “As he engaged with the community he championed at every turn, Marshall passed it on, encouraging others to pursue their dreams with the stubborn belief that, regardless of obstacles, all things were possible.”

Those of us close to Marshall could swear he’s still showing us that all things are possible. We try to chalk them up to coincidences or confirmation bias – flickering lights, sudden discovery of long-missing items, misbehaving technologies – but some feel too on-the-nose to shrug off entirely.

For instance, the celebration of life for Marshall, who truly loved professional wrestling the way other aesthetes celebrate literature or fine wine, was organized by the same funeral director who handled the 1999 funeral in Calgary for Canadian wrestler Owen Hart, which was attended by every wrestling star of the era.

Then, when Marshall’s wife Sylvia picked up his cremated ashes from the funeral home, she felt his loving playfulness at work the moment she started the car to drive home. The radio station started playing a song by Ozzy Osbourne – a ballad named for a phrase the rocker would say to his wife when returning from a long absence: “Mama I’m Coming Home.”

-Colin Hunter, 2024

Sara, Colin, and Marshall at a live wrestling show at the Kitchener Auditorium in 2023.

Finishing What Marshall Started

Marshall was a creative force his whole life, and inspired those of us around him to follow his example.

He was involved in a number of projects when he died -- projects we intend to bring to fruition in tribute to him.

Hip Hop Hope is a documentary about underground music and anti-racist activism in Waterloo Region. Marshall conceived the idea after discovering that, although many of the traditional music venues have closed, Waterloo Region is home to a burgeoning hip hop scene that is helping change the social and cultural landscape for the better.

Screenings of Hip Hop Hope:

June 15 at the Grand River Black Music Festival, featuring a panel discussion with Sara and some of the stars

Stay tuned for more details and ticket information for both!

The Ref Didn't See It! documentary celebrating professional wrestling's unsung heroes in zebra stripes, the referee. Filmed around Canada and the US, the film features the colourful personalities and action-packed theatrics of pro wrestling, Marshall's favourite obsession. It's a feel-good movie about unsung heroes and the motivations of the real people behind the characters. Check out the teaser. The film will premiere in Waterloo Region later this year.

Both these films will be dedicated to Marshall Ward, since neither could have started without him.

If you'd like to help us bring these and other projects to fruition, all support is incredibly appreciated. Ask us how you can help!


1 Comment

Thank you for such a wonderful and heartfelt tribute article about a sincere, caring and humble soul who touched so many lives in such a profound way. Marshall, you are and always will be missed and remembered so fondly. 💕

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