On Sunday morning, Nov. 7, a friend phoned to say Richard Marius had died.
The pancreatic cancer that for years had gnawed at him like remorse, finally
killed him on Friday, Nov. 5.
Sunday afternoon, during a reading I emceed at Davis-Kidd Booksellers, I felt
compelled to say a few words in memory of the man.
I mentioned Richards East Tennessee roots and uttered something about his
life-long quest toward 'a reconciliation with the universe.'
It was a badly garbled pronouncement. I had meant to say something about his
call to the ministry, his later disaffection with organized religion, and his
of a spiritual side later in life. I knew what I meant, but the best you
could say about what
I actually said, was that at least I hadnt ignored him.
Bless him or curse him--and plenty of people did one or both throughout his
lifetime--you could hardly ignore Richard Marius.
He was too controversial, accomplished, charismatic, for that.
Take that open laugh, those flashing brown eyes. The way stories crowded out
his mustachioed mouth in a baritone that climbed to tenor in the exciting
Consider his accomplishments. Four novels published, with several others in
stages of completion, all rooted in East Tennessee history and lore. Two
Thomas More and Martin Luther--that have become touchstones of religious
A teaching career that included the University of Tennessee and Harvard,
director of expository writing, he oversaw a staff of 40.
He established a 'Governors Academy for Teachers of Writing,' that met each
summer at UT for years, garnering the affection of hundreds of Tennessee
who carried his enthusiasm for language back home to thousands of school
More than any of these things, however, Richard was famous for controversy.
It may be that all you remember about Richard is that Al Gore fired him as a
speechwriter for alleged anti-Semitic sentiments. Lets dispose of that
right now. Whatever Richard was, he was no anti-Semite.
I believe this, because right after the story broke that Gore had fired
Marius, I read
his offending remarks, then phoned several Jewish acquaintances of Richards,
and to a
person they denounced Gores action and affirmed their faith in Richard.
Milton Klein, the
esteemed UT history professor, was adamant in defending Richard at a public
Admittedly, what Marius wrote wasnt politically correct, if youll pardon
Heres the worst of Richards article that appeared in 'Harvard Magazine:'
'Many Israelis, the Holocaust fresh in their memory, believe that that horror
them the right to inflict horror on others... The brutality of the Shin Bet,
the Israeli secret
police, is eerily similar to the stories of the Gestapo.'
Richard always had a knack for making provocative statements and getting
in trouble on campus. His anti-Vietnam War pronouncements at UT in the 1960s,
prompted so many threats on his family, and phone calls in the night, that he
Smith & Wesson revolver, which he sometimes slept with.
I was a student at UT when he wrote an article in 'The Daily Beacon' to the
that his most intelligent friends were atheists. For weeks afterward, letters
to the editor
appeared in The Beacon, beginning with words like, 'I used to consider myself
Richard Mariuss intelligent friends....'
Like most seekers, however, Richard softened over the years, and after the
at Davis-Kidd, one of his long-time friends and admirers came up to me and
said, 'He was a very spiritual man.' I thought back to an interview I
conducted with him
in 1990. Recently I looked up the resulting article.
It was all about his love of East Tennessee, and about how his writing is
in an appreciation of old-timers he met while working at a newspaper in
Lenoir City. I
wrote that Richard 'now professes a religious faith,' that he was active in
Memorial Church, and that he talked about how he 'often felt a religious
I remembered that Richard had spoken of looking at a stained glass window and
recognizing at once the beauty of the natural world and the spiritual nature
of the art that
celebrates that world.
'There came a time that I thought I might as well admit that some force in
allows me to experience the beauty of the world,' Richard said during that
interview. As if in summation, he added, 'Religion is wonderful when it
when it finds.'
Richard was a seeker. And in his life-long quest, that process of seeking
itself an expression of faith.
And thats what I meant to say at Davis-Kidd on Sunday, Nov. 7.