Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Remembering Tim Marshall

One year ago today, on October 12, 2014, my friend and mentor, Tim Marshall passed away in Jakarta, Indonesia.  He was 63, suffered from the usual combination of bad things that affect people who spend too much time on airplanes or eating at state or other banquets: high blood pressure and diabetes.  He had been warned years ago to slow down but it was not in his make up to slow down.  He told me once that he found what he did (at the time, it was herding cats) to be so easy and relaxing it was like being retired. For Tim was involved for much of his life in international trade and trade development.

When it came to China, the Former Soviet Union and SE Asia, Tim knew everyone who was anyone who had influence in the purchase of things Saskatchewan exported.  He moved in fairly high circles and was in his glory dealing with Ministers, Deputies, Ambassadors and the like.

Tim Marshall and George Grushchenko, Trade Commissioner, Canadian Embassy Ukraine
at the Western Canadian Farm Progress Show  Regina, Saskatchewan, June 12014
Tim was born in England and educated as an Agricultural Engineer.  He moved to Zambia shortly after graduating and ended up working for Massey Ferguson.  He was recruited by Saskatchewan in 1986 because he had experience in three-way trade deals and knew his way around the Soviet Union and China.

He was working for The Saskatchewan Department of Economic Development and Trade (EDT) when I met him in the late 1980s. We hit it off immediately, possibly because we were in many respects opposites. Tim was the smoothest most diplomatic person I ever knew.  I used to tease him that everything I knew about diplomacy I learned from him.  He always said that he wished I wouldn't say that.  Those of you who know me will see the humour in that exchange.

 Many of the trade delegations Tim brought to the province had to do with agriculture; crop and forage seed, farm machinery and livestock genetics, so it was natural that he would connect with Saskatchewan Agriculture staff.  I helped him with itineraries and sometimes driving/guiding the livestock groups.  Then in April 1991, he talked the department into letting me be part of a trade mission to Kazakhstan SSR.  This was my first experience in international travel and livestock trade development.  I was hooked.

In the next few years I was in China several times with Saskatchewan delegations that Tim led.  The logistics of one of these trade missions was a nightmare for anyone but Tim.  Plane schedules, hotel rooms, meetings were all painstakingly scheduled and rescheduled.  Keeping tabs of a bunch of eager novice travelers was no easy task, either (hence herding cats). But Tim managed it all. Along with, I need to add, a wonderful office support staff and the world's most patient travel agent, all of whom went with Tim when EDT morphed into Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP).

We learned how to deal with other cultures.  When we went to Kazakhstan in 1991, we of course had to travel through Moscow (it was the Soviet Union still at that time) and ended up two tickets short from Moscow to Almaty.  A couple of cartons of Marlborough and several pairs of nylons later we had our tickets.  In Beijing we learned to arrive early at the airport and find our check-in counter.  Tim would stand at the counter with all our documents.  We would pile our baggage around him like a fort and then stand in a half circle outside our luggage facing outwards.  When the counter finally opened, we realized why the precautions.  No room for politeness or queuing in the Middle Kingdom in those days.

I went to China several times with Canada Livestock Services (CLS) which in those days was breaking into their beef genetics market.  And in January 1997 Tim talked the department into sending me to Ukraine for a short livestock seminar.  Saskatchewan was working hard at breaking into the Ukraine market with livestock genetics and farm machinery.  Instead of going home after the seminar I ended up with another delegation led by Tim going to Zimbabwe and South Africa, replacing a member of CLS who had to cancel.

When I got back, Saskatchewan Agriculture had a pink slip and a check waiting for me, which extended my life and the lives of those I reported to by at least a decade.  For a short time, I worked at STEP and finally joined Canada Livestock Services.  There were many other projects I worked with Tim on - missions to Turkey and to Iran, a great many incoming trade missions and study tours to be organized.

In 1997, Tim engineered a partially CIDA funded project in Ukraine to be delivered by STEP.  The Canada Beef Forage Program was a four year program to take Canadian beef and forage production technology to Ukrainian livestock and crop specialists.  Tim wanted me to take the lead in developing the material and teaching the beef section of the first three 3-week courses.  My Tanya was in the first course I taught and came to Canada the following year with five of the top students from the three courses.  The rest is history. I think I was in Ukraine at least once every year after 1999 and since it always, from Day 1, felt like home, I moved here when Tanya and I got married in 2006.

Tim got tired of being micro-managed and retired in 2011.  By retired I mean he went to work for his long time friend and former colleague at STEP Murad Al-Katib at Saskcan Pulse (AGT Foods).  No more cats to herd.  Tim was on the road marketing Saskatchewan pulses all over the world.  That is what he was doing when we lost him in Jakarta.  His wife Hanne had been on the road with him as a sort of holiday and had not long before, left for home.

I owe him a great deal for all the education and opportunities (as well as for a wonderful wife) and for his friendship. It is hard to think of a world without Tim.  One thing I learned: NEVER take for granted that someone you care about will be there tomorrow.


  1. i lost my best friend and mentor years ago - and I still miss him.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  2. Goddess bless your sweet heart..and Tim's

  3. Very sorry for your loss and the loss for humanity for that matter. I hate it when decent people die.

    1. Thanks, Jono. Death, like rain, falls on the just and unjust alike, I guess.

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