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Remembering Joe Marshall, a quiet giant of humanity

Idaho Power CEO Joseph Marshall jokes with well-wishers at his retirement party at company headquarters in 1999.
Idaho Power CEO Joseph Marshall jokes with well-wishers at his retirement party at company headquarters in 1999. Idaho Statesman file

It has been hard to think of a world without Joe Marshall since his passing on Oct. 19. A lump still develops on my throat. My eyes tear up. I feel vulnerable. I have a sense of emptiness.

Joe was a rare walking sermon. He preached with his life. We would be people of value if we could just be a fraction of what Joe was.

In 2006, I wrote a column for the Idaho Statesman about Marshall and Jan Packwood, two former presidents and CEOs of Idaho Power. Here is a portion:

Daniel J. Boorstin said, “In our world of big names, our true heroes tend to be anonymous. In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-known-ness often proves to be the unsung hero...”

These words come to mind when I think of Joe Marshall and Jan Packwood, two former presidents and CEOs of Idaho Power Co. I was hired as a riparian ecologist by Idaho Power in 1992 when Mr. Marshall was the president. Just to put our positions in perspectives, using a chain of command system, a message from either of us would have to go through five steps.

But out of curiosity and a desire to learn from my elders and leaders, I called Joe’s secretary and asked her to set a lunch meeting with him. The next phone call was from Mr. Marshall himself asking if we could meet at the Red Lion-Downtown.

In that lunch hour and another one later, not only did I learn about his background, relationship with his wife and children, but also how they cared for their ailing parents in their sunset days.

He shared what he considered principles of success but emphasized the importance of family and serving people to the best of one’s abilities.

When I completed the first draft of my “East African Folktales” book, I gave Mr. Marshall a copy to read and requested him to make a comment. Two weeks later, he took the pains of bringing it to me from his ninth floor office to mine, which was on the first floor.

I was bewildered by his presence in my disorganized office, but Joe surprised me with his level of comfort. He took a chair and spent a substantial amount of time encouraging me and appreciating my heritage. He mentioned that it took him longer to get back to me because he shared the folktales and their morals with his sons and their families. His last words as he left my messy office were, “Vincent, keep writing. There is so much we can learn from Africa.”

A few months after I traveled to Kenya in 2010, I called Joe (again he came to my messy office) and told him of the devastating conditions of poor orphans and children from poverty-stricken families who were unable to join high school. His words — “Vincent, you amaze me, and I am confident those children will have tuition because you care” — inspired me more than the financial support he gave over the years.

Debbie Johnson, a former Idaho Power employee, wrote after Joe’s passing:.

“Joe taught me so much about how to be a good manager — by example. I remember when he was VP of planning. He sent all of us to the afternoon Christmas party while he stayed at the office to answer the phones for us.

“Then there was the time several of us were at Hells Canyon with Joe and Larry Gunnoe for a hydro relicensing deal ... we were at a picnic table at one of the IPC [Idaho Power Co.] parks. It came time for the caretaker to sprinkle the lawn. We were asked to move. Joe and Larry never pulled rank. The caretaker, I’m sure, didn’t know who they were (CEO and president). We obeyed and left. Joe didn’t pull punches but always upheld your dignity. If you ever had an ‘opportunity for improvement’ talk with Joe, you always left feeling like a good person.”

That “feeling like a good person” was uniquely Joe’s signature. He always inspired us to meet people where they are and treat them as if they are on the ninth floor. Joe’s contributions were never on front pages or highlighted in the evening news. But they are in our hearts — the home of lasting monuments of humanity.

Boise author and speaker Vincent Muli Kituku is the founder of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope and Caring Hearts High School, a boarding school for vulnerable girls in Kenya. Reach him at (208) 376-8724 or vincent@kituku.com. This column will appear in the Dec. 21, 2016-Jan. 17, 2018, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine.

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