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Queen's lecturer David Marshall loses cancer battle

By Allan Preston

The family of a popular Queen's University lecturer in learning disabilities have paid tribute to their "inspirational" father who died following a battle with cancer.

David Marshall (56) passed away surrounded by his family on Tuesday in his Ballyhackamore home in east Belfast - six weeks after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.

His wife May (56) and their four children Catherine (27), Jenny (26), Anna (24) and David (23) spoke to the Belfast Telegraph about his bravery in his final weeks, his strong Christian faith and his devotion to those with learning disabilities.

In 2015, Queen's awarded Mr Marshall - a senior lecturer with the school of Nursing and Midwifery - with a most inspiring/motivating teacher award after being nominated by his students.

Since his diagnosis, he remained determined to enjoy time with his family, including a recent trip to see a show in London's West End.

"David was a passionate man in every sense of the word, passionate for people with a learning disability with whom he had a unique connection," his wife May said.

"They were drawn to him and he always brought out the best in them. Once he touched their lives they never forgot him. Always pushing the boundaries, going the extra mile, to make life exciting. He was a devoted family man and imparted that same passion into his family."

His son David, a podiatry student, spoke of his father's generosity.

"I got to hold his hand when he was passing away, I'll cherish that forever," he said.

"Dad lived his whole life for other people. One of his Down's Syndrome friends, Gerard, sat on the sofa crying all day yesterday. He kept asking 'who's going to take me out on my birthday now?'

"I just said: 'Gerard, we'll still take you out.' That's what dad's life was about, serving others."

Anna (24) said she would carry on her father's work through her career as a learning disability diversional therapist.

"Last week, he said to me 'Anna, life is about making a difference in people's lives'. He was the most selfless man to walk the earth."

On June 5, Anna, along with her siblings and friends, completed the Slieve Donard Moonlit Walk, raising £3,000 for Cancer Focus NI. Despite his ill-health, their father surprised them all by waiting at the bottom of the mountain to applaud them in the early hours.

Jenny (26) said her father helped her achieve her dream of becoming a nurse and supported her through her own health scares.

"My dad was my biggest inspiration in life.

"He held me through three brain surgeries and celebrated with me in graduating at the same school in which he was senior lecturer," she said.

Catherine (27), a theology student, called her dad "the funniest man I know".

"How blessed we all are, to have had him play such a big part in our lives. I will always be thankful for how much he taught me about God, not just by the stories he told me, but by the way he lived his life."

Donna Fitzsimons, head of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen's, said staff and students were "deeply saddened" by the loss. "He had a unique passion and drive for his topic that was very inspirational," she said.

The family will hold a private burial next Tuesday, June 20, with a celebration of his life in the Culloden hotel at 3pm.

Anna explained: "He didn't want doom and gloom, so there's a dress code of bright colours and it will be a real celebration of the life he got to live."

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