SJSU journalism student dies at 28

by May 23, 2013 1:58 am Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Chris Marian


Christopher Marian loved planes as a child, learned to fly at a young age and was fascinated with military and aviation history, but his talent for storytelling and inquisitive nature eventually led him to shift gears and pursue a future in writing and reporting.

His sister, Alicia Marian, described him as very intelligent, kind, articulate, witty and funny with a “sardonic, sarcastic slant.”

“He named his column (in the Spartan Daily) ‘Nuke the Whales’ … that was sort of indicative of his humor,” she said.

Marian died in his sleep Wednesday, May 15 at his home in El Granada, Calif. He was 28.

The cause of death has not been determined and is “pending investigation,” according to his death certificate. The family said they wouldn’t have an official cause of death for another four to eight weeks.

A private gathering will be held Friday at 11 a.m. for close friends and family at Skylawn Memorial Park in San Mateo, Alicia Marian said, where his ashes will be interred. According to an obituary written by his mother, Melinda Marian, for the Half Moon Bay Review, no funeral service is planned.

The Spartan Daily and Marian's former classmates and colleagues held a memorial luncheon on Thursday in the newsroom for Marian.

Marian is survived by his parents, Ron and Melinda Marian, his sister, Alicia Marian, and grandparents, Melvin and Elizabeth Marian.

In the obituary written by Marian's mother, she described her son as “passionate about his work at the SJSU newspaper” and mentioned his “lifelong interest in science and technology.”

Marian was born on July 12, 1984 in San Francisco and lived in Texas and Alaska as a small child, but spent most of his life in El Granada, on the peninsula between Half Moon Bay and Pacifica.

His mother described him as “a sweet, happy, creative, curious little boy” who was “articulate and questioning from the beginning.”

While Marian’s sister described her family as “very quiet and introverted,” she said her brother had “strong friendships with a small group of people” from high school that he stayed close with for years — a group his mother described as “quirky” and “intellectual.”

Marian came to SJSU in the fall of 2003, where he was a student intermittently over the years, in addition to taking some courses at a community college in San Mateo, according to his sister.

As an experienced pilot, having begun flight lessons in the eighth grade, Marian pursued an aviation degree at SJSU and was part of the school’s Precision Flight Team from 2003 to 2005, his mother said.

Marian went on to compete in the 2004 National Intercollegiate Flying Association Safecon as well as the 2004 and 2005 Pacific Coast Intercollegiate Flying Association Regional Competitions, according to Melinda Marian.

“He liked flying and planes,” Alicia Marian said. “He got his pilot’s license when he was 14 or 15 … before he got his driver’s license.”

His mother said in anything he pursued, Marian "focused on the fundamentals and developing, challenging and refining" his skills and "eschewed technological ‘crutches.’”

In Marian’s family, aviation “spanned the generations,” as his sister put it, since both of their grandfathers had been pilots as well.

“He was always proud of having learned to fly here in the Bay Area, which is very complicated because there’s so many big, major airports,” Alicia Marian said.

After considering his career options and the “reality of the major,” however, she said her brother felt aviation wasn’t the best fit for him, so he switched to journalism.

His mother said “his love of language, discourse and writing” was a much better fit for journalism.

Timothy Mitchell, a design lecturer at SJSU and adviser for Access Magazine oversaw Marian’s semester on the magazine in fall 2012 and said he enjoyed thinking out loud, which “came in handy” during the magazine’s brainstorming sessions.

“Chris was one of our excellent senior editors on Access who kept the grammar coordinated with the writing intent,” Mitchell said. “If Chris was a Western gunslinger he would have been the fastest draw with an AP Style Guide in his holster.”

Marian worked on the Spartan Daily for four semesters: one as a staff writer, two as a copy editor and most recently as the opinion editor.

Julie Myhre, an SJSU alumna who worked with Marian on the Daily for two semesters said his death came as a shock to her, especially since they had just spent the previous semester sharing the same desk working late as copy editors.

"There were many nights when Chris and I would get dinner together and he would even walk me to my car when we’d leave the Daily at night," Myhre said. "We were the only two editors that commuted to the Peninsula each night. He went to Half Moon Bay and I to Hillsborough, so we’d follow each other on Interstate 280 then part ways when we got to Highway 92. We’d always talk about how it was comforting to see each other’s headlights or taillights ahead or behind our cars. It was like we were escorting each other home and making sure we both got there safely."

Myhre said her close friend and colleague wasn't afraid to have his own opinion and that was something she "always appreciated about him."

In April 2012 Marian won an award for Best Personal Opinion Column in the statewide California College Media Association competition for his column, "Why I Still Vote."

Alicia Marian said working on the paper had brought out a new side of Marian, especially when he became an editor. “The paper was pretty much the highlight of his life currently,” she said.

Jan Shaw, a retired journalism professor and Daily adviser taught Marian in her advanced reporting class and said it took him a couple of semesters to get through it, “but he persevered big time … and he finally made it with flying colors” and went on to be a “star” at the Daily.

“(He was) really, really smart, great reporter, great instincts, great copy editor … with a quiet but wicked sense of humor,” Shaw said.

Margaret Baum, the spring 2013 executive editor for the Spartan Daily worked with Marian all four semesters he was on the Daily and said they became very close as a result of the long hours they spent working together, and that his death came as a shock to her after spending time with him just two days before.

"Once everyone was done with classes that day I joined him and another close friend … for a beer," Baum said. "I remember sitting across the table from Chris as the three of us talked about 'Doctor Who' and I asked him not to spoil the episodes I had yet to see. We talked about what we would do this summer. He said he wanted to start flying again and was going to look into that. I remember him saying, 'I could take you for a plane ride if you are brave enough.' I had no way of knowing that was the last conversation I would ever have with him."

Richard Craig, a journalism professor and Daily adviser said he would often find himself talking to Marian about various topics he never would have anticipated “because he was interested in so many things.”

While his sister said Marian enjoyed the reporting, camaraderie and “crunch” deadlines of the Daily, the opinion pieces were “definitely his venue” because he liked to “think about things” and it allowed him to share those thoughts and “play with his writing.”

Craig described Marian as “very well read” and someone who “knew what was going on in the world.”

“He could write a pretty good opinion piece right off the top of his head about pretty much anything,” Craig said.

Marian was set to graduate in 2014 and according to his mother, “hoped to work for a news organization or magazine in any role they would hire him for.”

Craig remembers Marian as an “interesting character” with the type of dark humor he said would have fit into any professional newsroom.

“He was one of a kind,” Craig said. “He had an awful lot left to share with the world and it’s a crime that he’s not going to be around to see what happens over the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years.”

In lieu of flowers, the Marian family suggested donations be made to the Chris Marian SJSU Journalism School Fund in care of San Jose State University, online at under the 'Other' category.

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