University of Wisconsin–Madison

Department Administrator Mary Marshall to Retire after 30 Years

Department of Surgery Administrator Mary Marshall retires on November 16 after 30 years of Service to the University.

Mary Marshall

Mary’s leadership and contributions to the Department leave an enduring legacy.

Otolaryngologist Chuck Ford, MD, noted Mary’s “fierce dedication to colleagues and staff.”

Glen Leverson, PhD, a biostatistician with the Department, said, “Mary has made it a point to publicly recognize her staff and make all of her employees feel like they are part of something much bigger. Mary is the link in communication, the glue in employee retention, and the compass and the drive behind our direction.”

Amy Pahl, a medical staff assistant, remarked that Mary “maintains a wonderful ability in conversation to slow down, purposefully listen and thoughtfully respond with interest, making you feel she has all the time in the world to spend with you.”

Delight Hensler, Program Manager in Otolaryngology commented that, “I have always looked up to Mary as a true mentor, and credit her for my success and growth.”

Michael Aly, a colleague from the University of Washington, described Mary as “fantastical, festive, and fun. She possesses that special gift of making a big job entertaining.”

Layton “Bing” Rikkers, MD, Chair of the Department of Surgery from 1996 to 2008, praised Mary’s “incredible work ethic, superior intelligence, and creativity,” which “have allowed her to become one of the finest surgery department administrators ever. As impressive as these characteristics are, they do not even come close to defining her as a human being. Although always holding them accountable, all who have worked for and with Mary have experienced her warmth, compassion, and caring manner. She is not only an exceptional leader, but a true and loyal friend to those she leads.”

Rebecca Minter, MD, current Chair of the Department of Surgery, recalls the first time she met Mary Marshall, “I had arrived late for the Society of Clinical Surgery meeting being hosted in Madison – long before I ever knew I might be looking at a job here. I had missed the bus and without a beat, Mary put me in her car and took me to the event – giving me a tour of Madison along the way! That is Mary’s way – there is no task beneath her – she simply jumps in and gets things done.”

Dr. Minter remarks that one of her greatest trepidations in taking the position at UW was Mary’s pending retirement. “Mary was such an icon within the Department and had such deep institutional knowledge and memory that it was daunting to take this position in the wake of her retirement. In true Mary fashion though, she worked day and night to ensure that we had incredible talent in place at all levels of the department and then personally invested in identifying and hiring her replacement. Mary is a selfless, brilliant, and supportive leader, and her legacy is that she has left the department in an incredible position of strength pointed towards the future.”

Music, Love, Medicine

Mary Marshall’s executive skills were evident from an early age. “I was the neighborhood organizer,” she said, describing her childhood as the fourth of eight siblings in the town of Neenah, Wisc. “I knew when I was little that I liked to be in charge. I would put on classical music and conduct an imaginary orchestra in my bedroom!” When she was 14, her father died of a heart attack. After that, “we all raised ourselves,” Mary said.

Mary attended Lawrence University in Appleton, where she majored in English and met her future husband Doug. Upon graduation, the couple moved to the Twin Cities. Her childhood game found a real life form when she became secretary for the Minnesota Orchestra, led by Sir Neville Marriner.

For almost four years, Mary was in charge of planning auditions and hiring musicians, activities that complemented and helped sharpen her administrative abilities. She also gained an education in classical music, enjoyed free access to cultural events in Minneapolis, and learned useful lessons about the formal world of work. “I was openly planning my wedding during office hours! An executive there taught me the importance of leaving your personal tasks at home,” she said.

Next, the couple spent two years in Fargo, North Dakota, where Doug attended graduate school and Mary supervised a ten-person team of door-to-door canvassers for an NIH-funded grant to promote heart screenings.

When they subsequently moved to Ohio, Mary continued to work in healthcare. Dr. Frank Noyes, an internationally renowned knee surgeon and founder of the Cincinnati Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center, hired her as a researcher. For over 3 years, Mary helped build programs and supervise the research and fellowship program. She also ran large national courses on the latest techniques in orthopedic surgery.

Move to Madison

In 1988, Doug, now a commodity merchandiser, was offered employment in Johnson Creek. Mary quickly found a position with Dr. Bill Clancy, a knee surgeon at the University of Wisconsin who was familiar with her work in Cincinnati. Mary was hired to help develop research and education programs in the Division of Orthopedics. After three years, she moved one last time, to the Department of Surgery.

From her job experience in Cincinnati, Mary brought new ideas and energy to the Department of Surgery. She helped guide its development for the next three decades, including the hiring of biostatisticians, editors, a nurse educator, and even (at one time) a librarian. She is especially proud of her work with the art committee to develop the collection that now enlivens the Department’s public spaces.

Mary has seen numerous changes in the Department over thirty years. File cabinets and typewriters are obsolete, and people can no longer smoke in their offices. A major, welcome shift is the increasing number of women surgeons.

Describing her 30 years at the University, Mary said, “I have always felt privileged to be present during important conversations with smart people. I found my home in the Department of Surgery.”

Q&A with Mary Marshall, Outgoing Administrator for the Department of Surgery

What has it been like to be a woman in your role?

I never felt held back by gender. Everyone in my formative life was a strong woman. After my father’s death, my mother raised me and my 7 siblings by herself. My grandmother also raised her family alone. This was a role I had seen from a very young age. As a child, I was a “bossy-pants”—I had that personality. As an adult, I was very lucky in my career to have male mentors who supported me and never deterred me.

It’s been 30 years. What do you miss about the old days?

There was a lot of fun and creative energy in the Department. I miss a certain festivity, as well as the physical and human aspects of how we do our work. At the beginning of my time in the Department, I wrote grants. Every part of the process involved actually meeting with the individuals who reviewed and signed off on the grant! I’d have the 8 photocopies of the grant, collated and stapled, and I’d cart them off in a box! First, I’d go to the Medical School, meet with a person who looked over the grant, and made changes with a pen. Then I’d go to Bascom, another person would sign off. I was out of the office, walking the campus. I knew everybody! Now, it’s electronic and abstract and I think there’s loss in that.

What are your hopes for the Department going forward? What will be the biggest challenges?

Obviously, the biggest change is the consolidation of the organization. We ran independently, and now we are managed centrally as part of a larger organization.

My greatest hope is in Dr. Minter’s leadership. She is bringing in new ideas, making a Strategic Plan on how to survive, thrive, and pave the way in this new environment. We have incredible leaders here. But she also has a plan to look closely at the strengths and weaknesses of all leaders in the Department. There will be coaching of the leadership. She is facing head-on what’s getting in the way [of success], and figuring out how we place ourselves to be leaders in the field. Ultimately, surgeons are problem-solvers by nature, people of action. And our current talent in the Department is the finest that I have ever seen in my 30 years.

What are you most proud of, in the end?

Helping people grow. That’s been the best part of all.