Remembering Marion Combs: Pioneer of the Educational Theatre Foundation

In 2014, Marion Combs came out of retirement to become Vice President of Development at EdTA. That turned out to be a pivotal moment for the association — in the subsequent eight years, Combs built a fundraising presence and impact that has shaped the lives of thousands of students and teachers across the country.

“We could not have built the Educational Theatre Foundation without Marion’s vision, positivity, and courage,” said former EdTA executive director and current ETF trustee Julie Cohen Theobald.

Combs passed away Friday, July 1, 2022, after a long battle with cancer. In the wake of his passing, his colleagues and EdTA friends fondly remember not just his visionary work but his heart, humanity, and humor. As noted in his obituary, “Marion was dubbed Mr. Conviviality as he connected easily with all people and constantly kept his family laughing with his original jokes and pop culture humor.”

“Whenever Marion would walk into my office for a brainstorming or problem-solving session, I knew I was in for a smile as well as valuable counsel,” said Chief Content Officer Allison Dolan. “I feel so lucky to have benefited from Marion’s wisdom, always delivered in his inimitable way, with charm and good humor. Marion embodied our core value People Matter.”

“Marion Combs is one of my favorite humans on this planet,” said ETF trustee and EdTA vice president Krista Carson Elhai. “I’ve watched that sly smile and Southern charm captivate many people who are now the biggest fans of the Educational Theatre Association mission.”

Combs’ biggest accomplishment at EdTA was developing ETF as the philanthropic arm of EdTA, including these key achievements:

  • Securing the funding for the national expansion of JumpStart Theatre, now present in 10 states
  • Leading successful bi-coastal fundraising galas annually to expand ETF’s donor base and gain awareness for the mission
  • Launching the Thespian Relief Fund at the outset of the pandemic, which has since granted more than $200,000 to save theatre programs at more than 200 schools around the country
  • Funding and developing the Pathway program in memory of Craig Zadan, which works to build racial equity through school theatre

Combs received the EdTA President’s Award in 2019 in recognition of his contributions.

“The accomplishments of EdTA and very existence of the Foundation (let alone its success) can be directly tied to Marion’s vision, commitment, and unwavering enthusiasm,” said ETF board of trustees vice chair Megan Tulac Phillips. “Theatre aside, we are all better humans having known Marion.”

EdTA members and friends who would like to share memories with the Combs family can do so on his memory wall.