Personal Tribute
Gary Marx: An Influential Force on AASA and Its Editor
By JAY P. GOLDMAN/School Administrator, August 2019


During his two decades overseeing AASA’s public communications, Gary Marx raised the organization’s profile markedly.
THIRTY YEARS AGO this summer, I received a phone call from Gary Marx while I was working in communications at another national education group. He asked if I might come over to his office in Arlington, Va., to interview for a pending vacancy on the magazine staff at AASA. I had written to Gary two years earlier (this was a few years before any of us had e-mail) asking for an informational interview as I intended to follow my wife to Washington, D.C., where she had taken a new job.

Gary somehow recalled that earlier personal contact and my interest. I have since come to realize that no one who has dealt with Gary Marx for any length of time ought to be surprised that he’d remember such a thing.

A few weeks later, I became School Administrator magazine’s managing editor and three years after that moved up to editor. Remarkably, I’m still at it — and that’s in no small part because of the profound influence Gary exercised, in every professional sense but also on a personal level. I cannot imagine a more supportive supervisor (he was never a “boss”) or someone so dedicated to service in support of public education and school leaders in communities both major and minor.

Gary passed away on May 31. He was 80 and in hospice care at home in Vienna, Va., where he succumbed to prostate cancer but only after waging the same spirited quest he brought daily to the workplace.

During the two decades he directed communications and publications at AASA, from 1979 to 1998, he significantly raised the profile of our mid-sized professional association. He was a go-to source for education journalists and a sounding board for his colleagues in the school public relations arena. He seemed to have connections everywhere, which he further multiplied during the past two decades while leading his Center for Public Outreach as a speaker, deep thinker, book author and consultant on societal trends.

After Gary handed me the magazine’s reins, he would periodically say he wanted our monthly publication to serve as “a market-place of ideas” to provoke thinking and consideration by the nation’s top school leaders. He often would suggest story topics and leads to prospective contributors — usually on scribbled Post-It notes, I recall. But he never pushed too hard. In my first year, Gary let me set the tone and direction, endorsing School Administrator’s coverage of some mildly contentious subjects — the efforts of religious conservatives to take over school boards and a full issue about outcomes-based education that carried a graffiti-scrawled cover proclaiming it “the dirtiest phrase in school reform.”

Born on a South Dakota farm, Gary took his work seriously but enjoyed nothing more than infusing a bit of fun into his dealings with his staff. His fondness for bad puns took on legendary status far outside the walls of AASA headquarters. At the association’s national conference each year, where we’d produce a 20-page daily newspaper for 3-4 days, Gary would decorate my convention center desk after the first issue was distributed each year with a hand drawing of a blue ribbon and the same silly notation: “Joe Pulitzer thought you deserved this.”

His influence on my work continued well beyond the 10 years we worked as AASA colleagues, right up to the end of his life. I sense he continued to look at each issue of our monthly magazine because he’d comment on something from time to time and exhibited the same pride in our work just as he had many years before.

In recent years, Gary remained my go-to source. When I was put in charge of creating a special issue of School Administrator to suitably capture AASA’s 150th anniversary in 2015, I had no doubt whom I’d be consulting first (and second) as I began a deep research dive into the association’s past. If he didn’t have the answer in his head, he’d offer to locate a relevant document in his home basement that would satisfy my need. Over the past several years, Gary keenly followed our efforts to launch the AASA historical archives at George Washington University’s special collections library, where thankfully so much of his special work will be housed for posterity.

When Judy Marx, Gary’s wife of a half-century, asked me upon his passing to craft his obituary, I accepted the assignment as a distinct honor. Though I do not think that writeup in just a few hundred words truly captured his remarkable accomplishments or character, this opportunity does give me the final say. Thank you, Gary, many times over.

JAY GOLDMAN, an AASA staff member since 1989, is editor of AASA’s School Administrator magazine. Twitter: @jpgoldman