David Marshall honoured as Colonel Commandant

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

September 16, 2009

The long, illustrious professional career of well-respected Doctor and Superior Court Justice David Marshall will be enhanced even more this week when the Haldimand-native is crowned Colonel Commandant at National Defence Headquarters in Halifax.

Marshall, 70, accepted the honorary three-year appointment from Defence Minister Peter MacKay earlier this year. It is the highest honorary position in the Armed Forces.

Marshal will maintain communication with the colonel-in-Chief, Princess Ann, and is a source of "information and experience" for the Surgeon General's office, as well as a source of inspiration and esprit for all ranks.

"I honestly don't know what my role is exactly," Marshall admitted during an interview last week. "I'm going to be briefed on it."

The Queen is the head of state in Canada, he explained.

Marshall expects to serve as a liaison between the Canadian Forces Medical Branch and the Colonel in Chief, communicating operational matters of interest pertaining to the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps. The Colonel Commandant travels all over the world to canvass the views of all ranks in the corp and frequently attends military policy conferences, ceremonies and unit celebrations.

Traditionally the position has been given to former senior medical officers, however consideration is given to medical practitioners who are particularly prominent and respected within the world of civilian medicine.

Marshall graduated from the University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine in 1963.

While growing up in Dunnville he was a cadet and in 1976, after graduating from Osgoode Hall Law School and being called to the bar, he joined the reserves as a medical officer with the 23rd Hamilton Field Ambulance.

His first exercise was a three-week stint in Alberta and upon returning home he wrote an article for the Medical Journal.

The Surgeon General at the time as appreciative of Marshall's work which helped with recruitment and asked him if there was anything he could do for him.

At that time the Cold War was on and Canada had two combat-ready bases in Germany.

"I said I'd like to go for summer," Marshall said.

Arrangements were made and Marshall served as a staff doctor at Baden Solingen.

"It was quite an experience on our base," he recalls. "It was combat ready in that they had all the aircraft guns in every corner and the jets that took off every five minutes. Most of the guns were under tarps."

Marshall recalls being asked if he wanted to attend a military briefing one day, but didn't see the need because he was serving as a doctor.

Two nights later he got a big surprise while asleep in bed with his wife Jill.

"The sirens go off and the lights lit up," he said.

"They took the tarps off the guns and we see all this and we're scared to death. We thought the was started."

Marshall put on his whites only to find out from a soldier that it was a drill exercise.

"And of course, that was what the briefing was about."

When Marshall returned to Cayuga he practiced law and medicine, but also continued his involvement with the reserves and would regularly go on exercises to military bases all over Canada.

"Penetang, Meaford, Borden, I've been to them all," he said.

Marshall worked his way up to be Commanding Officer of the 23rd Hamilton Field Ambulance.

He was then called to Supreme Court Bench in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. He was teaching law school in Ontario at that time, but decided to take the opportunity, travelling to Yellowknife with his wife and one child. Four of his kids remained in the area at the time, attending high school and university.

Marshall hadn't been in Yellowknife long when he got a call from the general of the Northern Command who asked him to serve as medical officer, which he did for six years.

He was then called to Ottawa to start the National Judicial Institute. He spent six years there, serving two, three-year terms. He was the founding director of the institute which was responsible for the continuing education and basic education for new judges.

Soon thereafter he got a call from the Surgeon General and was appointed to the Medical Research Council of Canada. He chaired a committee that studied and published guidelines for human research and experimentation and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, serving as the special assistant to the surgeon general on matters of crime.

After completing his second three-year term, Marshall decided to return home to the farm in Cayuga. He became honorary Lieutenant Colonel of the 23rd Field Ambulance in 1994, a unit that today is among one of the best in the world, currently serving overseas in Afghanistan.

Marshall always considered his military involvement to be "his contribution" and was always interested in it from a young age.

"I found it to be a great experience that was tremendously helpful to my career," Marshall stated. "I had the opportunity to travel to places all over the world. I have lots of friends and it's been very rewarding."

Marshall also credits his wife for much of his success.

"She encouraged and enabled me," he said. "Those are the two words - encouraged and enabled."

At age 70, he doesn't intend to stop working.

"They'll have to push me out the door," he jested.

"The real pleasure in medicine and law," he added, "is that you have skills that you can help people."

Some of the people who come through the courts or a doctor's office are experiencing the most difficult time in their lives, he noted.

"Whoever comes in is usually in trouble. If I can be gentle and helpful, then it's an accomplishment."

Marshall's long list of community involvement includes being named honorary Chief of the Six Nations Indian Reserve and serving as director for the Royal Hamilton Flying Club. He is a past school board chairman of the Haldimand Association for the Mentally Handicapped.

The various roles are listed in his six-page curriculum vitae.

"I don't consider myself particularly smart or anything," he siad. "But I do work hard at what I do."