Former Detroit attorney helps keep a 'Lion' alive


 by Tom Kirvan

Legal News
Richard Marsh is a walking encyclopedia of all things Churchill. His breadth of knowledge of the late British prime minister is perhaps surpassed only by the magnificence of Marsh’s home library, dedicated to the man credited with helping stop Nazi tyranny in its tracks.

The library, undoubtedly, would make Churchill proud, rich as it is with countless collectibles, books, letters, documents, and photos of the cigar-chomping war leader in particular and British history in general.

“Let’s just say that when we built this house we did it largely with this library in mind,” said Marsh. “My collection of books had grown to such a degree over the years that we needed a larger space to house them.”

Marsh, a retired Clark Hill attorney, and his wife, Mary Jo, a retired school teacher, designed and built their stately home west of Ann Arbor with exquisite attention to detail. At the front is a quaint English courtyard with British lions
adorning a bench. The front door features a lion’s head doorknocker in the style of 10 Downing Street, home to British prime ministers since 1735.
“I’ve always believed in the importance of planning and preparation,” Marsh said. “Everything was designed or collected with a purpose.” 

A portrait of Churchill, a replica of a painting by the acclaimed Frank Salisbury, sets the tone for the library, which is accented by furniture modeled after treasured pieces in the grand Althorp House, the English home of the Spencer family that included Lady/Princess Diana. Churchill’s ancestry can be traced to the Spencers, one of the preeminent aristocratic families in Britain, according to Marsh.
There are 13 generations of Churchills represented in Marsh’s collection, which has been built over the course of a legal career that began in 1969 when he graduated from the University of Michigan Law School.

“My family’s ancestry is tied to Cutcombe Parish in southwest England and I’ve probably made at least 15 visits... over the years,” said Marsh, who also earned his bachelor’s degree from U-M. “I’ve always been fascinated by history and Churchill is such a revered figure who stands out in so many ways,” he added, noting that Churchill won the 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Much of the collection was purchased from three primary dealers in the U.S., including Chartwell Booksellers in New York City,  “The World’s Only Winston Churchill Bookshop.” He said prices for Churchill items tend to follow stock market ups and downs, and “dealers have done well” during the recent bull market.
Steve Forbes, son of late magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes, reportedly is influencing the market, periodically selling some of his father’s cherished Churchill items at auction, according to Marsh.

“Being a collector is not for the faint of heart,” Marsh said with a half smile. “It can be a pricey proposition.”

Churchill, a prolific and gifted writer, reportedly authored more than 40 books, including his best-selling six-volume history, The Second World War. Marsh even has collected a 2,100-page bound bibliography of Churchill’s various published works.

“What many people don’t know about Churchill is that he was a war correspondent of great note in the late 1800s...,” related Marsh, who estimates that he has more than 1,500 books in his Churchill collection. “He wrote for several of Britain’s leading newspapers and also authored several books about his military experiences in the British army.”

Marsh has written extensively on Churchill’s life, privately publishing a collection of essays. He also is a sought-after speaker at Churchill-related events, regularly traveling the country to attend meetings of significance.

He often covers Churchill’s photographic memory, his “uncanny ability to foresee the future,” his strained relationship with his father, and his mother’s Brooklyn lineage.

Marsh has undoubtedly gathered some interesting nuggets from Churchill’s 91-year-old daughter, Mary Soames, whom he has met several times. Several years ago she published her memoirs, A Daughter’s Tale, a signed copy of which appears in Marsh’s collection.

Fortunately, Marsh’s wife shares his enthusiasm, as do the couple’s three daughters, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Diana. Marsh met his wife, who grew up in Canton, on a blind date at a U-M football game in 1967; they married in his last year of law school. 

He spent his entire career with Clark Hill, specializing in administrative law, environmental law, and litigation before retiring.

“I rarely stop by the office anymore, except to abuse the copier,” Marsh quipped.

Marsh was raised in Dearborn, the home of Ford Motor Co. 

“I was discriminated against as a kid because my Dad was the Chevy dealer there,” Marsh said with a smile.

Now in his “second career” as president of the Churchill Society of Michigan, Marsh runs little risk of losing his job.

“I have a feeling that this is a lifetime appointment,” he joked.