Marselis Parsons of Shelburne has died after a battle with cancer. He was 70 years old. As an anchorman on WCAX television from 1984 until his retirement six years ago, Parsons was perhaps Vermont’s best known journalist.
As news director, Parsons managed one of the largest news organizations in the state, but during his 43 years with WCAX he saw himself as a reporter first and foremost.
In a 2002 interview with VPR, Parsons described the qualities he valued in a television reporter.
“An inquisitive mind. A good writer," he said. "What you look like is obviously not that important. Look at me!”
For many years, Parsons anchored the WCAX hour-long newscast alone. Kristen Kelly joined him as co-anchor near the end of his career. Kelly says Parsons served as a mentor to her and other young reporters.
“It was clear when he did not like something, and he was effusive when he did like something,” she says.
WCAX News Director Anson Tebbetts says in a medium where brevity can trump substance, Parsons often demanded that reporters’ stories contain more information, not less.
“It was always too long when you walked into [his] office, but when you left the office he had added 15 or 20 seconds to the story because it needed to be done,” says Tebbetts.
VPR Senior Vice President John Van Hoesen was managing editor of the Rutland Herald when Parsons was WCAX news director.
He says Parsons was competitive, but also collaborative, working with the paper on polls and debates, and even sharing news.
When Parsons learned in August 1991 that Gov. Richard Snelling had died suddenly, he was one of the first to alert Van Hoesen.
“Marselis was thinking, 'Let’s get the best journalism out for the state of Vermont.' That was him,” says Van Hoesen.
Van Hoesen says Parsons exemplified a generation of reporters whose careers were shaped in the post-Watergate era and who valued a probing style of journalism.
“Marselis, for me, was the consummate professional. He was a suit-and-tie journalist, but he was a colorful person,” he says. “He was very eager to engage you in a conversation and perhaps take the opposite side.”
In spite of his gregarious nature, Parsons kept public officials at arm’s length.
“Somebody told me once that reporters don’t have friends," he explained in the 2002 VPR interview. “You’ve got to be careful sometimes because you may have to shock your friend and expose them for the wrongdoing that they have done.”
Those who knew Parsons called him by his childhood nickname, Div.
As the son of a foreign-service officer, he spent part of his childhood overseas. That background made him a bit of a Renaissance man: Parsons soaked in information and relished telling stories, often generously salted with colorful language.
“He had a certain panache about him,” says colleague Kristin Kelly. “He had a convertible. He had a vintage speedboat that he loved to take people out on. He loved squiring people around. There was a dashing quality to him that seemed old fashioned in a way.”
In 2002, when asked to describe his role as a journalist, Parsons resorted to an old fashioned image.
“I am the town crier of yesterday,” he responded. “I’m wandering through the community ringing a bell, saying ‘Hear ye, hear ye.”
Parsons is survived by his wife Julie, a daughter Susan and a granddaughter. Funeral arrangements are pending.