Remembering Kyabram’s marathon man

By Kyabram Free Press

MY thoughts drifted back to the early 1960s last week when I was informed of the passing of former Kyabramite Keith Marshall.

When I was starting out as a cadet journalist with this paper, I found myself accompanying Marshall on one of his early endurance feats.

At that time, American president John Kennedy was concerned about what he deemed a lack of fitness of his people. He issued a challenge for them to try and walk 50 miles within 24 hours.

That was right up Keith Marshall’s alley.He wrote a letter to the Free Press, indicating he was bursting to take up that challenge.

Editor of the Free Press at the time Paul Easton suggested it would make an even better story if I accompanied him on that challenge.

How nice of him.

But I did weaken and went along.

A 50-mile course was plotted from Kyabram to Stanhope to Ardmona back through Lancaster and home.

We set off early on one Friday morning and as Shepparton based radio station 3SR was giving updates of our progress we gathered a lot of onlookers and well wishers along the way.

But we did it — and with at least eight hours to spare.

There was the usual Friday night dance in the Mechanics Hall when we finished and we were dragged up on stage and cheered and congratulated by a huge crowd of dance goers.

That was my introduction to Keith Marshall.

From that day I followed all his marathon endurance feats with great interest and admiration.

I remember in the early 1980s flying to Sydney with Peter Lyon to cheer Keith home in the Westfield Melbourne to Sydney foot race made famous by that famous spud grower Cliffy Young.

Keith finished stronger than any of the runners in that race and got up to finish fifth.

Over the years the wiry former soldier, who saw active service in Australia during the famous Japanese prisoners break-out at Cowra, put his body to some gruelling and uncompromising ordeals. But he always relished the challenge of undertaking them — and finishing them — no matter what state he was in mentally or physically.

The word ‘quit’ was never in his dictionary.

Despite suffering a stroke about 10 years ago he was soon back in the swimming pool every day to maintain his fitness.

Keith’s son, Daryl, a minister of religion in Benalla these days, conducted the funeral service in Benalla on July 28 and told mourners in his eulogy of several of his father’s feats of endurance.

He recalled one when Keith was pushing a wheelbarrow at the Lavington sports ground after leaving Kyabram in the early 1990s to be nearer family.

Daryl said his father had a late-night visitor who accompanied him for several laps. After some intense interrogation he found out the stranger’s name was Jon English. Yes, the former well-known singer, obviously impressed and inspired by Keith’s will and determination, like a lot of other people.

Keith also loved his boxing and one of his treasured memories was striking up a friendship with Jimmy Carruthers, an Australian world bantamweight champion fighter in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Yes, Keith Marshall, who died aged 93, was as tough as teak and had a heart bigger than Phar Lap’s.

by Gus Underwood