Mr. Bojangles’

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 28, 2014

SPENCER — Bobby Marsh would have appreciated the parade in his honor Monday morning.
About 7 a.m., four golf carts carrying friends and family took off from Bobby’s 11th Street home, made the left turn onto Salisbury Avenue and traveled all the way up Spencer’s main drag behind a police escort.
The destination: Bojangles’. The second golf cart, driven by son Eric Marsh, was carrying Bobby’s cremated remains.
Women who work at Bojangles’ already had saved and decorated the front window seat from where Bobby Marsh always pestered people, engaged in debates and even flipped the bird to his friends going through the drive-through.
When he laughed, the whole town of Spencer could hear it.
The parade’s golf carts were decorated in Mardi Gras beads from New Orleans, where Bobby had once run a successful business. Longtime friend Gail Beasley also made sure every man wore pink beads “because that would tear Bobby up,” she said, appreciating her one last dig.
“I didn’t want anybody to recognize me,” Ken Broughton acknowledged.
The parade participants held a quick ceremony and said a prayer at Bojangles’ before going inside. Later in the morning, they would bury Bobby’s ashes in the Trading Ford Baptist Church cemetery.
Bobby Marsh, 74, had long been plagued by COPD and required oxygen to be with him all the time. He entered the hospital Tuesday, and by 4 a.m. Wednesday, had passed away.
His close friends made sure they were at Bojangles by 7 a.m. the same day to make sure they could tell everyone in person that morning Bobby had died.
Later, in his eulogy for Marsh, brother-in-law Bob Vanderberry described Bobby as a “character, of the first order.”
That probably doesn’t scratch the surface.
At Bojangles’ Marsh had his reasons to pick the corner window spot nearest to the traffic light.
“He wanted to be seen, and he wanted to see everyone,” Roger Beasley said.
Marsh could be famously cheap. His friends still like to tell the story of his personal crusade to have Bojangles’ sell him the seniors’ VIP coffee for 52 cents without having to buy anything else to go with it.
The Bojangles’ staff finally gave in, and Bobby proudly placed his 52 cents on the counter each morning.
From his corner in Bojangles, Bobby (or “Mr. Bobby”) was like a flame that drew moths. Over time, the group of men and women seemed to grow around the conversation because other customers wanted to hear what was going on.
“He was good for business at Bojangles,” a friend said.
How many “deals” were worked out over the years in that corner of Bojangles? “Not many deals,” Roger Beasley said, “but a lot of talk about deals.”
The regulars plan to keep meeting every morning at Bojangles, but it won’t be the same for guys such as Roger, Ed, James, Ken, Jesse, Doug, Mickey and “the Worm.”
“If he didn’t pick at you, he didn’t like you,” Vanderberry said. That’s why Bobby called his Bojangles friend Odell by the nickname “Worm” and constantly introduced his sister Helen Marsh to people as “My Fat Little Sister,” though she hardly deserved that description.
Once, he owed Helen some money and paid her back with a check. Helen accepted it without looking, took it to the bank to be cashed, but a teller said she had better look at the check first.
Bobby had made it out to “My Fat Little Sister.”
His constant teasing and harassment set him up, of course, to have the tables turned on him.
Marsh often accompanied Gail and Roger Beasley to dinner at various places. Driving back from Lexington one night, Gail, who was sitting in the back seat, secretly turned the knob on Bobby’s heated passenger seat as high as it would go.
“Roger, are you hot in here?” Marsh asked the driver.
Soon, he was yelling to Roger that the car was on fire and preparing to open the door — on Interstate 85 — to bail out.
Gail doubled over in laughter.
“I’m dying, and I got the cussing out of my life,” she said.
It was a story to retell, of course, countless times at the Bojangles breakfast meeting.
Bobby Marsh often drew a crowd because he could tell a story, and the amazing part, Eric Marsh said, is that most of them were true.
You could share some of his stories in church, but others you could not.
Marsh grew up northern Rowan County where everybody in Dukeville seemed to know him. He married young and lived for a time in Tampa, Fla., where he operated some gas stations.
While he was in Tampa, Eric said, Bobby one day saw a man jump off a bridge, and though he couldn’t swim, Bobby stopped his vehicle and jumped into the water to save the man.
Holding onto a bridge piling and getting cut up by barnacles, Bobby saved the guy’s life, and the city awarded him with a plaque, Eric says.
Marsh eventually took off for New Orleans and the oil business. At first he slept in his broken down truck on the city streets and did “things you couldn’t do now,” Eric said.
But he somehow got into an insulation business connected to oil, and created a company called Petroleum Insulators.
In his free time, he spent weekends at hunting and fishing camps, often taking his family. “He had a good time, but he always brought us along,” Eric recalled.
Broughton said Bobby Marsh spent so much time at a place called Herman’s Bar in New Orleans that he finally just bought the place.
Once, going across a long toll bridge, which had a $1 fee, Bobby tried to hand the man in the toll booth a $100 bill — though he had $1 bills, too.
When the man refused to make change for $100, Bobby gunned his vehicle through without paying.
Down the road, he was pulled over by police, to whom he explained that “I had the money, but he didn’t have the change.”
The police accepted this explanation, took Bobby back to the toll booth and had the man count out $99 in return for his $100.
Bobby eventually left New Orleans and his business in 1986 and returned home to take care of his aging parents, now deceased. He became a member of the Spencer Moose Lodge and the Spencer Masonic Lodge.
Bobby and his father, G.W., were great card players, especially at spades and rook.
Eric said his father also attended all the football games he could while Eric was playing for the University of Maine. He had an open, generous heart, Eric said, for all his children, stepchildren, grandchildren and step-grandchildren — and there were many.
“He was all about family and lived life to the fullest,” said Eric, who lives in Bangor, Maine.
Bobby Marsh got away with a lot of stuff probably because everybody who knew him well realized he had a big heart.
He sometimes patrolled the neighborhood in his golf cart and ran off solicitors who he determined were trying to take advantage of older residents.
Sitting in Marsh’s living room Monday afternoon, his friends and family said Bobby recently saved the life of neighbor Dean Wyrick when he checked in on Wyrick when Dean was having a stroke.
Neighbor Allen Hinson said Bobby Marsh truly was a Spencer icon.
One election year in Spencer, Bobby received more than a dozen write-in votes for mayor when Jody Everhart was unopposed. Gail Beasley was behind that conspiracy.
After the election when Everhart was riding through town in the Holiday Caravan parade, Bobby made sure he got the mayor’s attention.
“If anything happens to you,” he shouted, “I got you covered.”
With Monday’s parade, it was Spencer’s turn to cover for Bobby.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or