Marion Combs, influential development executive and architect of the Educational Theatre Foundation, passed away July 1 at the age of 78 after a long battle with cancer.
Combs, a longtime veteran of such organizations as Stillman College, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and the State Theatre Regional Arts Center, came out of retirement in 2014 to serve as vice president of development at the Educational Theatre Association, an organization focused on supporting and increasing access to school theatre around the country. During his eight-year tenure with the organization, Combs proved instrumental in building EdTA's fundraising presence, specifically the Educational Theatre Foundation. Launched in 2017, ETF is the philanthropic arm of EdTA that supports access to theatre education, with an emphasis on underserved communities, through grants and special programs.
One such program is JumpStart Theatre, which aims to build theatre programs in middle schools that previously had none. Selected schools, determined by an application process, receive funds, materials, and training to produce their first full-scale musical production; support continues for three years as the schools prepare to self-sustain the theatre programs. Combs secured funding for the program's national expansion, arriving in 10 states so far.
Combs also launched ETF's Thespian Relief Fund at the outset of the pandemic, which has awarded more than $200,000 in grants to save theatre programs at more than 200 schools across the country.
EdTA honored Combs with the President's Award in 2019 in recognition of his tireless efforts.
"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,” shared ETF Board of Trustees Vice Chair Megan Tulac Phillips. "Theatre aside, we are all better humans having known Marion."
Combs is survived by wife Diana W. Combs, children Philip and Alexandria, grandchildren Walker and Isaac, sister Susan, and daughter-in-law Dawn.
For more information on the Educational Theatre Foundation and to support its efforts, visit SchoolTheatre.org.