Lafayette's 2015 Citizen of the Year is Marechal Duncan
By Lou Fancher
To keep pace with Marechal Duncan, Lafayette's 2015 Citizen of the Year, bring running shoes.
The 93-year-old rises every morning to stretch and jog for 30 minutes, then sets out from his Lafayette home of 60 years to be what he calls, "active."
Duncan and his blazing energy will slow down just long enough to be celebrated at a Citizen of the Year dinner March 27, at the Lafayette Park Hotel.
As vice president of the Lafayette Historical Society, Duncan oversees a history in which he himself has been a major player. A former Troop Leader of Boy Scout Troop 204 for nearly 20 years, LMYA coach when his now middle-age children were young, co-chairman for the annual Senior Symposium, involved in SIRS for 27 years, instrumental in establishing the historical society's room in the Lafayette Library, a participant in various task forces and committees -- it's fair to say Duncan is a legend.
Kathy Merchant, Las Trampas development director and longtime friend, says, "Often in a community there is one person who, for decades, is the voice of that city, who gives time and talent to almost every aspect of what makes a city special. Lucky us that in Lafayette, that person has been Marechal for over 50 years."
Duncan doesn't know how a story got started that he caused his family to pull up their roots in Quincy, Mass., in 1922 and move to San Diego.
"I was just 1 year old," Duncan says. "I once told a reporter I had said I didn't like the winter, but it's made up that I started the whole thing. Everybody was moving."
Even so, it makes a lively tale because his father's Model T made it only to Missouri before getting stuck in the mud. ("Remember, there were no highways then," he says.) Duncan's dad sold the car and the family took the train to California.
Making his home in the west, Duncan joined the Naval Reserve in 1940. "I had no idea what was about to happen. I wanted to go to the Naval Academy," he says.
Instead, World War II happened and the reserves were called to active duty. Duncan landed on Guadalcanal in one of the first advance offensive naval units, charged with going ashore once the Marines had secured the islands.
"I had a bad time there," Duncan recalls. "There were bombs, snipers, shelling. I had malaria and PTSD, which they called being 'shell-shocked' then."
After his Navy days ended, Duncan attended UC Berkeley, graduating with a degree in science, and earning a masters from Pepperdine University. He landed a job and became the western area sales manager for Motorola.
"I introduced the first cell phones in California," he says, proudly.
Perhaps the only person who can claim they've matched Duncan's community activist track record since his retirement from Motorola is his wife, Doris. Diminutive in stature, but mighty in her own volunteerism, her determination equals -- and even exceeded, in one crucial case -- that of her husband.
Pen pals during the war -- they'd met while Duncan was on a few days' shore leave in Oregon where she was a schoolteacher and out for dinner and dancing with friends -- she had decided he was "different, a wonderful dance partner and most impressive." Learning through their continuing correspondence that he was in Berkeley attending college, she arranged to come down for summer classes.
"I guess she came down for me," Duncan says. "I was dating other gals so I thought, 'Uh-oh.'"
Four children, seven grandchildren, multiple decades and countless civic contributions later, the Duncans like a phrase: "Life is lived forward and understood later."
"This is what 93 looks like," Duncan says, stretching to his full height and offering his profile. "I say, keep active and keep busy. Keep your mind going."
A good citizen, they agree, is informed.
"Things happen in a city, and the City Council invites the public to come talk about it," Duncan says. "To me, a citizen is someone who will get up and say, 'Here's what we should do to make this a better city,' or, 'Here's what I object to.' If you protest or speak for something, that's a citizen."