If you’ve lived in Gainesville at any point in the last 60 years, you were probably familiar with Gene Marlow’s green Volkswagen van.
Over the course of his 58 years as a volunteer baseball and basketball coach with the Boys and Girls Clubs and Gainesville Parks & Recreation, Marlow would often drive all over town to pick up young athletes without any other means of transportation and make sure they didn’t miss practice.
It’s the type of sacrifice for the benefit of others that came second nature to Marlow, and as his son Tim put it best, “that’s just the kind of person he was.”
Marlow died Sunday night after a month-long battle with COVID-19. He is survived by his wife, Diane, five children and 11 grandchildren. He was 86.
Memorial Park Cemetery in Gainesville is handling funeral arrangements.
Gene Marlow was born and raised in Dahlonega, but he came to Gainesville decades ago in an effort to improve the lives of his growing family.
He worked for over 40 years as a purchasing agent for Northeast Georgia Medical Center and became a supporter of Gainesville High and University of Georgia sports, once his children started attending both of those schools.
But around Gainesville, Marlow will always be remembered most as a coach.
He started coaching when his own kids got into playing sports, but found he enjoyed it so much that it quickly developed into one of his greatest passions. Tim Marlow said his father’s genuine care for every player he was in charge of made him a natural as a coach.
“Dad’s just a giver back to the community,” Tim Marlow said. “He always said, he was not the wealthiest guy, not the smartest guy, but he knew how to build character through young men.”
During his time as a coach, Marlow played a role in the early development of hundreds of athletes, several of which would go on to play at the highest level, including eventual MLB players Cris Carpenter and Jody Davis.
But his impact on those he coached went beyond improving baseball skills.
“He has coached men from every socioeconomic background in the community, and it did not matter to him where you came from,” Tim Marlow said. “What mattered to him was your desire to play ball and improve your position in life through sports and through learning character. You can’t play sports if you don’t do well in school, and you’ve got to stay off the streets. Mind your momma and your daddy. Really basic, simplistic morals and ethics. And he taught it through sports.”
Tim Marlow played for his dad’s teams as a kid, and 30 years later Tim Marlow’s son, Burns, did the same.
Both said Gene Marlow’s earnest dedication to making his community a better place has impacted every member of their family in a significant way.
“Wealth to him was not measured by what was in his bank account or what was in his 401(k),” Burns Marlow said. “It was measured by the impact that he made on the kids on his baseball team and the impact he made on his family. And that was something that I think has been embodied in the spirit of us and his kids and that he’s passed down to us to make us the kind of people that we are today.”
Burns assisted his grandfather, over the last three seasons, and experienced firsthand his grandfather’s passion for helping kids never waned with age. Burns Marlow recalls one night last season when he and his grandpa’s team was scheduled to play an intrasquad scrimmage. On the very same night, Gene, an avid University of Georgia football fan, was invited to an event where Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart would be speaking. Gene Marlow was reluctant to leave his team for the scrimmage, but Burns Marlow convinced his grandfather that he could handle things for the night.
And while Gene Marlow did end up going to Athens for the event, he definitely did not forget about his team.
“He called me at 9:30 that night on his way back, and he wanted a full rundown of what happened, who performed well,” Burns Marlow said.
“Like the CEO of a Major League Baseball team,” Tim Marlow chipped in. “That’s how seriously he took this.”
And while Gene Marlow certainly did take his baseball seriously, his ultimate motivation was never winning games.
Carpenter, who played for Marlow’s teams as a 13, 14 and 15-year-old before eventually playing baseball and football at the University of Georgia and being drafted in the first round by the St. Louis Cardinals, said Marlow’s love for his players was what stood out above everything else.
“I’ve said this many times,” Carpenter said. “The good Lord blessed me and this community with Gene Marlow. To give what he did to this community for as many years as he did, people like that don’t come along but every once in a while. And he loved me, and I know that because he told me every time he saw me. I had never had a coach like that before.”
Carpenter would go on to become a coach himself later in life, and even though it had been years since he had played for Marlow’s 13, 14 and 15-year-old team, the lessons Carpenter learned from Marlow were reflected in his coaching style. Carpenter played for UGA and four different MLB clubs in his career, but it was Marlow that taught him the importance of caring about your players above everything else.
It was a philosophy that Marlow lived and coached by, and one that rubbed off at least somewhat on every person he came into contact with.
“Those are the things that I learned from Gene Marlow,” Carpenter said. “There is another side of coaching. It’s not just teaching the game and winning and losing games. It’s this man loves me, because he tells me he does. That’s the kind of coach that I became.
“That’s the impact that Gene Marlow had, on everyone.”