Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Marshall Fritz, pray for us

For the better part of this year as I pray each morning I have included among those whose intercession I ask, this man, Marshall Fritz, who passed away one year ago today.

Marshall Fritz 1943-2008

I never met Marshall, but I know his daughter Annie from our mutual membership in a Catholic email forum. When Marshall was nearing the end of his life and Annie was asking for our prayers, I was moved by the deep affection she expressed for her father, whom she mentioned had been active in political efforts surrounding homeschooling. Some time later, after his death, I was reading through the various House floor addresses of Congressman Ron Paul, and saw that he had paid tribute to Marshall Fritz as a champion of the liberty movement. Suddenly it clicked in my mind that the man Ron Paul was praising and my friend's father were one and the same person. And I realized how modest Annie was being when speaking of him.

Marshall was the author of the famous World's Smallest Political Quiz. He was the founder of Advocates for Self-Government and the Alliance for the Separation of School and State. But beyond these accomplishments, what has moved me to ask for his intercession daily is the testimony of his daughter, and of another friend of his whom I have met, Jim Babka.

In late March of this year when I found myself scrambling to put together the Steubenville Tax Day Tea Party, I called everyone I could think of who might be able to suggest a speaker for me, including Annie. We spoke about her father, and I was struck with how the paschal mystery of Christ was evident in his life. That alone motivated me to seek the intercession of someone who, it seemed, certainly understood the challenges I was facing.

The speaker I did secure was Jim Babka. While we ate dinner after the Tea Party, I mentioned that I knew Marshall Fritz' daughter, and she thought maybe she knew of Jim. When I mentioned Marshall's name, a visible change came over Jim's face, as if he were in the presence of the Sacred. He told me the stories of his encounters with Marshall, which I have serendipitously found he also blogged, almost verbatim as he told them to me. Here is an except, but please go read the whole thing:

I’d first met Marshall in person back in 1999, but it was only in passing at a mutual friend’s house. We were re-introduced in 2004 when he was looking for someone to do some writing and other consulting for him. One thing led to another, and I was on a project that required me to meet him at a conference of 16,000 people in Indianapolis. We arrived at the convention knowing what we wanted to accomplish, but unsure just how we would do it, starting with how to get into all the events. Marshall paused as we passed the press room.

He had an idea.

Marshall pulled out his organization’s newsletter, which hadn’t been published in months, and like the boy who shouts, “Eureka!” he declared, “We’ll get press passes. I’m a member of the media. I’m a newsletter editor. And now you’re my reporter.”

“Marshall,” I protested, “I’m not a reporter. And that newsletter doesn’t make you a member of the media.”

“Sure, you can be a reporter. Aren’t you planning on writing a report for my donors describing why I brought you here and what we accomplished?”

“Well, yeah,” I replied uncertainly, while realizing there was some logic to his point.

“And as far as whether or not this newsletter makes me a member of the media, shouldn’t we let them decide that? After all, it can’t hurt to ask.” With Marshall, it never hurt to ask. In fact, it might hurt if he hadn’t asked.

I followed him into that media room, but stayed a few paces back, perhaps somewhat out of embarrassment, as he approached the attractive secretary at the desk. She greeted him. He greeted her. Now Marshall was always interested in where you came from. He told me that it helped him remember people better. And so he found out where this young lady was from. But then he struck pay dirt.

He found out that she used to work in Fresno — and that was where Marshall was from. And he knew someone from Fresno that he thought she might know — a man named Phil. It turned out she did know Phil, though it had been a few years since she’d seen him. Marshall whipped out his phone, ran down his speed dial, told Phil who he had sitting in front of him, and the secretary caught up with Phil for five minutes right there on Marshall’s phone.

Then Marshall asked her if she knew a particular clergyman. It turned out that he had been her pastor. Marshall opened his phone again, slid down the speed dial, and told the Pastor who was sitting in front of him. Just like before, she caught up with an old acquaintance.

And it was only then that Marshall told her he needed her help. She was thrilled to be of assistance. We got those press passes, along with access to the press lounge which had free books, adequate space to sit and write on your laptop, Internet connectivity, and free beverages (donuts at times too).

What was striking in Jim's telling of this story was not so much that Marshall was able to procure what they needed, but that his attitude towards life was one of being a connector of people. And that's putting it blandly. He and Annie both emphasized that there simply was no one like Marshall. Like this: "No, you don't see what I mean. I mean literally -- you have NEVER met anyone anything like him."

I have heard it claimed that Libertarianism is inconsistent with Catholicism because it lacks a component of solidarity. I think that for anyone knowing Marshall, who was an ardent Catholic and to many, the face of the Libertarian movement, one could not even think that. It seemed he was solidarity personified, and he inspired it in others. (One could just as easily dismiss Catholicism as nothing but a bunch of legalistic rules and practices -- certainly one would think that if one had only met Catholics who lived that way. All mere ideologies fail; truths are for being lived.)

Marshall had a website which celebrated his impending death. It states: "I'm terminal. So are you. We need to sort out what's important and get it done."

I ask for Marshall's prayers because I desire to be a truly free person who is invested in others, not bound by societal dictates and petty fears, but by truth. As Annie's email signature line says:

Seek the truth. Conform your life to it. -- Marshall Fritz.


Annie McKenna in Pittsburgh said...

Marie! Thank YOU!! You made this very difficult day an opportunity to celebrate my father! And reminded me of his uniqueness and celebration of people. I was often the shadow following behind him as he met anyone and everyone! And now that I can no longer be that shadow I desperately miss his wisdom, courage and truth-filled manner!

Bea Knaapen said...

Thank you for the wonderful remembrance of a wonderful man. I've posted a link at the Alliance website so we can share it with others also remembering Marshall today.
Bea Knaapen, Office Manager
Alliance for the Separation of School and State

Alan Schaeffer said...


Your post is wonderful and captures so much of the essence of Marshall's amazing effect on people everywhere. Jim is indeed right--you never saw anything like Marshall when he was on the trail of an exciting new person or idea. And you should have seen the way he used that phone!

The irony of his passing on the day Obama was elected is not lost on many who watch and think about the culture and politics as Marshall did. As jovial and positive as he was, he knew the consequences of our choices and actions were very real. I witnessed this indomitable man on a few rare occasions as he got what he called, "a sudden gust of despair". Almost as suddenly (seconds) he would be back to his larger-than-life self again, helping all of us gain or keep perspective. He knew how much we all need to keep trying to seek the truth and conform our lives to it--and he lived that even when it wasn't easy.

My guess is you are asking intercession of the right man. He's probably figuring out who to call to get you connected to the right people right now!

Marshall, my friend, you are missed.