Chalmers Marquis, known as the voice of public television on Capitol Hill, died March 24 in Alexandria, Va. He was 91.
Born on November 12, 1926 in Bloomington, Ill., Marquis graduated from Hyde Park High School in Chicago. As a high school senior, he formed a successful nightclub act that was recruited by the William Morris Agency for a national tour.
Marquis enlisted in the Navy in 1944 and served through 1946 as an electrician’s mate on LSM 484 in the Pacific. Following his service, he earned degrees at the University of Chicago in 1948 and the University of Illinois in 1950, where he studied journalism and broadcasting, and started a campus radio station in a nearby photography store.
After starting his career as a dolly-pusher in commercial TV, Marquis began ascending the ranks at Chicago’s newly founded educational television station, WTTW. From 1955 to 1964, he rose from producer/director to director of programming at WTTW. Under his direction, the station became the largest public broadcaster in the United States. In 1965, Marquis was tapped for posts in Washington, D.C. — first with the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, then at PBS, where he served as vice president of national affairs.
He also served as Congressional liaison for the National Association of Public Television Stations and Children’s Television Workshop. During his tenures, Marquis helped create the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 and expand educational television to school classrooms across the country. As public television’s chief Congressional liaison, he also helped secure federal support for such landmark children’s programming as “Sesame Street” and “1-2-3 Contact.”
In 1991, Marquis retired and was honored with the Ralph Lowell Award for his contributions to broadcasting. Following retirement, he remained active, lecturing at universities and working with the U.S. State Department to help Saudi Arabia establish an educational television network. His work in public broadcasting was commemorated in the book “Televisionaries,” and his papers now reside at the University of Maryland library.
A long-time D.C. area resident, Marquis lived on Lake Barcroft in Falls Church, Va. for over 50 years, enjoying swimming and boating and volunteering for numerous organizations in the Washington area. Also a musician, Marquis played multiple instruments and marched in the Northern Virginia Firefighters Emerald Society Pipe Band for two decades before a stroke in 1994 ended his playing.
Marquis married Carolyn Gavron in Chicago in 1951, and had two sons and three grandchildren, who survive him. In 1981, he married Leonora Hudson. Both spouses are deceased.
A memorial service will be held at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington on Sunday, April 8 at 12:30 p.m. In lieu of flowers, family requests that donations be made to Alzheimer’s research or your local PBS station in Marquis’ name.