Michele Marsh, a longtime New York TV news anchor, who left the business for good nearly 15 years ago, has died. Her son, John Paschall, confirmed in a phone interview that Marsh died Tuesday after a seven-year battle with breast cancer. She was 63.
Marsh had become a bona fide New York news star over a 18-year run at Channel 2, then — after a shorter run at WNBC/4 — left television news, and moved with her family to Litchfield County, Connecticut, where she died in hospice care.
Joining Channel 2 in 1979 — at the end of what was the high-water mark in terms of influence and viewership for local TV news in New York — Marsh arrived at a station that had long struggled to find those viewers and influence. But as anchor at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., along with co-anchors who included Lester Holt, John Johnson, Rolland Smith, Mike Schneider, Ernie Anastos and Jim Jensen, Marsh helped even the playing field. She was a popular anchor, also a serious one, a wordsmith who cared about language and who fronted a regular segment on adoption.
She was also victim of a notorious October 1996 putsch at Channel 2, when virtually the entire on-air staff was fired in one afternoon. Besides Marsh, some of the best-known names in local TV news were out of work in a matter of hours: John Johnson, Tony Guida, Reggie Harris, Magee Hickey, Roseanne Colletti and a relative newcomer to the brutal New York TV market, sports anchor Bernie Smilovitz. (Guida had joined the station only a few years ago, returning to Channel 2 after a long career at Channel 4 while Johnson had joined from WABC / 7 two years earlier.)
In an interview with Newsday shortly after, Marsh said, “I just never dreamed of being fired. It was just something that I never considered . . . so it came as a complete shock. Perhaps it was because I was in shock that I withstood the emotional roller coaster better than I thought I would after I went home. I have a four-year-old, and he said, ‘Mom, why do you look so sad?’ and I said, ‘John, I was just fired.’ He said, ‘What does that mean?’ ‘It means I’m never going back to Channel 2 again.’ He said, ‘Whoopee — now you can stay home and read bedtime stories to me.’
“I just think we do learn more from adversity, and that there are all these lessons we must learn and that . . . I got more compassionate toward others by going through what I did.”
Deborah Trueman, her friend and onetime producer on the Channel 2 newscasts, said in a phone interview, “I posted something on Facebook earlier and called her a ‘beautiful contradiction’ because she was famous but was also the least pretentious person — no attitude, zero, the most humble person but also fragile and sensitive. She had this beautiful sensitivity.”
Trueman said Marsh’s impact was considerable on other women in local news because “we were all women starting out in the business and she was already famous at 25, holding her own next to Jim Jensen with whom she was an equal partner. I started out as a writer, and to see someone there with that commanding a presence, it just gave the rest of us inspiration — yeah, we could do it.”
Her son, a 24-year-old producer with NBC Sports in Norwalk, Connecticut, said in a phone interview Thursday morning, “she’d been in her battle for seven years, and her doctors didn’t really give her great odds initially. But she beat them, and got to see the big moments in my life — my graduation from Northwestern, where she went, and the day I got married last year. It was just a special moment to have her dance with me.”
He said after she left Channel 4 in 2003, “I know she was really sad and it was certainly hard, but after the pain went away, she knew how great it would be for us to have each other and it meant a lot to have her around the house all the time.”
She also began a book — a mystery — after leaving TV, unfinished at her death. “She told me she wanted me to finish it now. I feel this tremendous pressure. She’s been working on it for most of her my life, and it’s amazing to think that she kept it a huge secret from everyone and didn’t even want to talk about.”
Born in Detroit into a military family, Marsh was raised in Philadelphia and San Diego, and began her TV career at a station in Bangor, Maine, before moving to Channel 2 in August, 1979. Her first marriage to Nathaniel Price Paschall ended in divorce. She is survived by her second husband, Paul H. Nargeolet, and her son. Her brothers,Ronnie, who died at age 6 and John, who died at 21, were both hemophiliacs, as was Marsh, Paschall said.