Cover photo for Gary Thomas Marx's Obituary
Gary Thomas Marx Profile Photo
1952 Gary 2022

Gary Thomas Marx

April 8, 1952 — December 4, 2022

Gary Thomas Marx, writer, editor and journalist, died Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, at home

in Carbondale, of cancer. He was 70.

He had a singular voice that was clear, friendly, and approachable. His dedication to

craft and language never wavered. Gary’s favorite number was 31, he said, because

in journalism the symbol “-30-“ means “the end” and he never wanted to stop


He was an excellent award-winning writer and editor. He was, more importantly, a

very good man. He was a dedicated steward of the land, a steadfast friend, and in

service to peace-focused community groups. He lived deeply.

Gary was born April 8, 1952, in Melrose Park, Ill., to Leonard Robert Marx and

Alfrieda Alice (Petmezas) Marx. He grew up in Schiller Park, which was then a wild

Chicagoland area called “Frog Town” because of its primitive landscape of trees, weeds,

shallow pools of water, and wildlife – mostly frogs. He attended St. Beatrice Grammar

School and East Leyden High School.

With his brother, Allen, he sold newspapers on the steps of the local Catholic church

for six years, long enough to seed his college fund. He studied history at Blackburn

College and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Southern Illinois University

– Carbondale. While at SIU, he worked at The Daily Egyptian newspaper, joined the

service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, and lived in R. Buckminster Fuller’s historic

geodesic dome. He hitchhiked to California to experience firsthand the influence of

the Beat Poets.

Gary worked for newspapers more than 35 years. As a reporter, news editor,

columnist, and copy desk chief he relished the camaraderie and deadlines of a hectic

newsroom – as well as the satisfaction of grabbing and proofing a local daily

newspaper hot and still smelling of ink as it rolled off the press.

He worked for The Wabash (Indiana) Plain Dealer, The Southern Illinoisan in

Carbondale, Ill., and The Kansas City Star in Kansas City, Mo. He interviewed

cultural icons from musicians (including Arlo Guthrie and John Cougar Mellencamp)

to politicians (governors, senators, presidential candidates). One of his favorite

stories as a reporter was his piece about the Vietnam War Memorial “Run for the

Wall” when he joined thousands of motorcycle riders midway through their 10-day

cross-country ride to Washington, D.C. arriving on Memorial Day.

He deftly guided more than a dozen books to publication as an editor for Kansas City

Star Books and Chandler Lake Books. With a love of the arts, diversity, and inclusion,

he edited the Holden Village Voice in the North Cascade Mountains, Lake Chelan,

Wash. He was a manuscript editor and writing coach for his own business, Cave

Creek Press.

He co-authored two books about his native state, “A River Through Illinois” and

“Illinois Trails and Traces,” published by SIU-C Press.

His colleagues describe him as a grounded, straightforward, intelligent presence in

the newsroom, setting things right with great good humor and wit. As a columnist,

he was a master at making the reader laugh on the way to a poignant twist that

brought tears. After hours, his colleagues said, there was nobody better to sip a

whisky with.

He was an enthusiastic partier. Halloween parties with his first wife, Bonnie, whom

he married April 12, 1980, are legendary. Their home was always open to friends –

dinners and games in the kitchen, beer and talks on the porch. They raised three

loving children.

And after he married Pam Kelley on Feb. 9, 1999, in Las Vegas, at a church Gary

inexplicably chose because Telly Savalas had been married there, an Illinois

gathering was required. The Not-A-Wedding party he orchestrated in the

Mississippi River Bottoms that October was a zany moveable feast. In Raddle, a

blessing at St. Ann’s church led to duck soup at the St. Ann’s Annual Duck Booya and

Chicken Dinner festival. In Jacob, the Marx family improvised their own Marx

Brothers skit that brought a rubber chicken in dangerous proximity to the wedding

cake. In Neunert, the Zydeco Crawdaddys band had everyone dancing under the

stars at the Bottom’s Up Family Bar & Grill. Laughter became the throughline of Gary

and Pam’s life together in Olathe, Kan., and in Carbondale, Ill.

Gary had a quiet side. He was a member of The Religious Society of Friends

(Quakers) and practiced their values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community,

equality and stewardship. Gary’s greatest generosity to others was listening with

undivided attention. He never offered unsolicited advice. He was a seeker with a

calm and steady manner – his insightful questions helped others find their own

gentle way.

He met people where they were and made you feel as though you’d always known

him. He was ready to help or console – he carried both a pocket knife and a

handkerchief, just in case someone needed either one.

He cultivated many points of common ground. He never missed White Sox opening

day in Chicago with old college friends. He was ruthless at chess and Scrabble, yet

ended games with a warm handshake no matter who won. He joined writing groups

to hone his skills and help others tell a tale. Swashbuckling films were a delight, and

so was the way he’d aim his laughter toward the sky like Errol Flynn.

Music moved him, especially Celtic, folk, and blues. He played blues piano badly but

with such feeling you wanted to listen anyway. He had a fondness for orphaned

upright pianos, the heavier the better, to the dismay of those who helped him move


He was most himself in nature, especially on the land and waterways of Southern

Illinois. He belonged to national, state and local organizations dedicated to

preserving Kansas and Illinois wildlands. To Gary, life was a river, always in motion.

He favored the back roads and believed there were no wrong turns, only

discoveries. The right path was the path with a heart.

After living in Kansas for 15 years, his path led him and Pam back to Southern

Illinois because he wanted to be a better steward to the land. “My body knows this

place,” he wrote. “My soul is at rest here... these woods in Southern Illinois bring to

me a peace I’ve felt nowhere else. They smell like home.”

In Alto Pass, Ill., he planted oaks for his children, stepchildren and grandchildren, for

a future he wouldn’t see. He studied the solstice, the moon, the stars. He hoped the

children would look up at the night sky and “marvel at a mystery.” “We’ll never

know it all,” he wrote. "This is not a failing... to the contrary, there is no higher

achievement of humankind than to sit and stare into the face of the universe and feel

a sense of wonder. And awe.”

“And we dance our dance in the days we are given.”

Gary is survived by his wife, Pamela Kelley of Carbondale, Ill.; son, Thomas Marx

(Julia) of Manhattan, Ill.; daughter, Rachel Herron (Justin) of Overland Park, Kan.;

stepdaughter, Willa Billingsley (Robert McCue) of Overland Park, Kan.; stepson,

Matthew Gamble of Marion, Ill.; and grandchildren, Natalia and Adrian Marx, Elliott

and Noah Herron, Leilani and Jemma Gamble.

He is also survived by his former wife, Bonnie Blazier Gamble Marx of Kansas City,

Mo.; brother, Allen Marx (Betty Lankford) of Urbana, Ill.; sister- and brother-in-law

Donna and Barry Eastman of Goreville, Ill.; sister-in-law Mary (Kelley) Wright of

Goreville, Ill.; and beloved cousins, nieces, and nephews.

Great respect and love go to his many creative partners, especially Daniel Overturf,

Michael Onken, Carl Hileman, Chuck Hoffman, Peg Carlson-Hoffman, Doug Weaver,

The Book Builders, The Gonzo Liberation Army and The Church of the Trilobites.

He was preceded in death by his parents; sister-in-law Roberta (Bertie) Marx;

brother-in-law Ronald Kelley; and brother-in-law Terry Wright.

A celebration of life will be held in 2023, date and time to be determined.

Memorial donations may be made to Friends of the Cache River Watershed or to the Illinois Native Plant Society – Southern


-- 31 --

Meredith Funeral Home in Carbondale assisted the family with arrangements. To leave a story or memory of Gary visit

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