Football's George P. Marshall, Founder of Redskins, Dies at 72
By Dave Brady
George Preston Marshall, founder, owner and president emeritus of the Washington Redskins football club, died in his sleep at his Georgetown home yesterday at 7:55 a.m. He was 72.
Mr. Marshall had been seriously ill with a combination of ailments. He underwent surgery to correct a hernia in August, 1962. Later, he suffered a cerebral thrombosis and was afflicted with hemiplegia, a heart condition, diabetes and arteriosclerosis.
Mr. Marshall shifted the National Football League franchise here from Boston in 1937 and was the operating head of the club until 1963. When he became unable to handle the day-to-day business, three conservators were appointed to run the club.
They were the late C. Leo DeOrsey, who died in 1965; Edward Bennett Williams, who succeeded DeOrsey as president of the club, and Milton W. King.
Mr. Marshall was born on Oct. 11, 1896, in Grafton, W. Va., the son of T. Hill Marshall and Blanche Preston Marshall. The Marshalls published a newspaper, the Grafton Leader, and later operated a laundry in Washington, which George Marshall inherited.
He was married twice, first to Elizabeth Mortensen, of Greensburg, Pa., by whom he had two children, and then to Corinne Griffith, former film actress. Both marriages ended in divorce.
Mr. Marshall's children are George Preston Marshall Jr., and Catherine Marshall Price.
Williams, president of the club, said that the funeral has been tentatively set for Tuesday, pending approval by the children. Williams returned from vacation at Nantucket, Mass., yesterday when he was notified of Mr. Marshall's death and immediately attempted to reach the children.
Mrs. Price makes her home in New York City and George Jr. operates a charter boat in the Caribbean.
The death of Mr. Marshall may result in a change in control of the club.
He owned 52 per cent; Jack Kent Cooke of Los Angeles owns 25 per cent; Williams and King 5 per cent each, and Vince Lombardi, coach and chief executive officer, 5 per cent.
DeOrsey owned 13 per cent but the Redskins' organization recently bought that segment, retired 8 per cent and made available the other 5 per cent for purchase by Lombardi, reportedly at $10,000 a share.
The franchise is believed to have a market value of at least $16 million. The Philadelphia Eagles recently were sold for that amount. The last reported offer for the Redskins was $8 million, made by Joseph Danzansky, president of the Giant Food, Inc., in October, 1964.
The children have sought in two suits to get control of the club, which now is in the hands of the court-appointed conservators, Williams and King, but lost in both cases.
Mr. Marshall was the person most responsible for persuading Congress to build D.C., now RFK, Stadium and his showmanship filled it, although the Redskins had not had a winning season since 1955 nor a divisional title since 1945.
He was known outside of Washington as a controversial figure, but he also was a power in NFL councils. He was the club owner who first proposed a NFL championship game be arranged by splitting the league and having the division winners play.
He was also the originator of the Pro Bowl all-star game and was first to organize an extensive radio and television network to carry Redskins' games.
Mr. Marshall had a fling at acting before gravitating to his specialty, promotion. At age 14, he organized a football team and barnstormed in the outskirts of Washington.
His Redskins team won championships during the early years here. He took great pride in his halftime shows and in the first band to be organized by a pro football club. The entertainment served him well in later years when the team sagged on the field but not at the box office.
The shows also attracted women to the stadium and he made game attendance "the thing to do" socially on Sunday afternoons.
He landed in his biggest controversy with the Kennedy Administration, which demanded that he abandon his previous no-Negro policy as a condition to being allowed to play in the new stadium.
He yielded with a flourish, trading a number one draft choice to acquire Bob Mitchell from the Cleveland Browns. Mr. Marshall became one of Mitchell's most enthusiastic rooters.