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Farewells: Marsha Robertson, '76

Movie Maven with a Mission

Photo: Courtesy Jacob Young

By Jacob Young

Marsha Robertson loved movies. Watching them or working on them, it didn’t much matter to her. In a 40-year career, she helped launch and promote more than two dozen films, including blockbusters like Top Gun and Good Morning, Vietnam, and intense, intelligent works like Quiz Show and The Game. When long days and all-nighters on film sets no longer seemed so glamorous, she joined a nonprofit and found a new mission: to end domestic violence.

Marsha Robertson, ’76, died at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco on March 14. She was 63.

Born in Menomonee Falls, Wis., Robertson grew up in Santa Clara County. Stanford, along with Hollywood, was an early obsession. She happily cheered for any Stanford team. In high school, she and a friend organized the Thunder Chicks, patterned after the Dollies. Even though the wannabe spirit club was a total fiction and had only the two members, Robertson wangled coverage on a local TV station. It was a glimpse of the publicity skills she would develop and hone throughout her life.

Robertson majored in communication at Stanford, then worked as a publicist for the Pac-8 while writing a column for tennis magazines. She moved to Los Angeles, joined MGM/UA Entertainment and rose to vice president of publicity. She soon discovered that the boardroom was a long way from the hands-on moviemaking experience she craved. Through the ’80s and ’90s, Robertson worked as a unit publicist on production sets around the world, including those of Jurassic Park, The Hunt for Red October, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, White Men Can’t Jump and Crimes of the Heart.

Twenty years after graduation, she married magazine editor Jacob Young, ’78. The couple moved to New York, where she became director of publicity for HBO and then employee No. 2 at what’s now entertainment powerhouse agency 42West.

In 2006, they returned to the Bay Area. After spending some time as director of communications and marketing for the Walt Disney Family Museum, Robertson joined Futures Without Violence. There, she found an intersection where social action, storytelling and popular culture came together with powerful impact. And she thrived. She loved her new mission and helped advance a movement in which women’s stories and voices now permeate every aspect of our culture.

Friends knew Robertson as an unfailing optimist. Just as she was certain she would get into Stanford, she was doubly sure she would beat the virulent lung cancer that struck out of nowhere. She kept working almost to the end, blasting emails to colleagues, asking smart questions or making funny asides. She never gave up.

Robertson is survived by her husband of 20 years and her brother, Jim.

Jacob Young, ’78, is a contributing editor at Wired.


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