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Obituary of Audrey Marsh King: businesswoman, musician, race car driver

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 1, 2010 - A memorial service for Audrey Marsh King, a pioneering Belleville businesswoman, a musician and, for a short time, a race car driver, will be at 11 a.m., Friday, March 5, at St. George’s Episcopal Church, 105 East “D” St., Belleville.

Mrs. King died Monday, Feb. 22, in Boulder, Colo., of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 89.

Mrs. King joined her family’s business, Belleville-based Marsh Stencil Machine Co., in 1952, and led the company’s successful export business, creating a network of international distributors in 100 countries that accounted for a third of the company’s business. She held several posts including executive vice president and member of the board of directors of Marsh Stencil and president of Marsh Interex Inc., an export sales subsidiary.

Mrs. King was born on her father Walton’s birthday, Dec. 18, 1920, three days before he, his brother, Eugene, and her grandfather, John W. Marsh, founded the company that would become a leader in the packaging industry, manufacturing stencil machines, marking tools and supplies, as well as carton closure machines. In 1980, Marsh was the first company in the world to develop and introduce large character ink jet coding systems.

After graduating from Belleville Township High School in 1938, Mrs. King studied piano at the Fontainebleau conservatory near Paris and later received a bachelor's degree in music at the University of Illinois. There she met and married Charles E. King in 1943. The late Mr. King was an architect who designed several award-winning homes and commercial buildings in Belleville, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, Fla. The Kings divorced in 1961.

In the 1950s, Mrs. King’s father turned her part-time clerical job at Marsh Stencil into a far more demanding role as export manager. Mrs. King’s daughter, Jane, had died in 1954 and she said her father saw the job change “as part of the therapy that he thought I needed at the time,” she recalled in a trade publication interview.

Mrs. King proved up to the task, increasing export sales by 50 percent in five years. She also made her mark as a woman in a male-dominated industry. “If I was a pioneer, I was one without knowing it. The feminist movement wasn’t around in those days, so my role just sort of evolved,” she said in the interview.

Away from the business, Mrs. King was a pioneer, as a highly successful sports car road-racing driver, often besting male drivers. This avocation ended at a 1957 race when she rolled her Jaguar XK-140 after its brakes failed. Persuaded by her family, she ended her brief racing career.

In 1964, Mrs. King co-authored a book “Adventures in Export” with her father. Used for many years as a college textbook, it became the training manual for the U.S. Department of Commerce as part of its effort to encourage American manufacturers to expand internationally.

A 1974 St. Louis Commerce profile cites “an element of her own and her company’s success is the freshness of her approach with people ... warm, straight-forward, direct.” It also notes that “her travels are not only for company profit, she ranges widely to increase international commerce – and to benefit St. Louis and the nation.”

In this role, she shattered many glass ceilings: She was the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. Industry Policy Advisory Committee for Multilateral Trade Negotiations in 1974, the first woman to sit on the Patent & Trademark Office Advisory Committee in 1976, the first woman chair of the Missouri District Export Council in 1977, the first woman director of the St. Louis Regional Commerce & Growth Association in 1977, the first woman director of Boatmen’s National Bank in Belleville in 1977 and the St. Louis Globe-Democrat’s Woman of Achievement in Business in 1978.

Mrs. King co-chaired a U.S. trade mission to Japan in 1973 and was a member of two other trade missions: to Russia and Poland in 1977 and to Mexico and Central America in 1985. Under her leadership, Marsh Stencil was recognized with Presidential “E” and “E Star” awards in 1963 and 1970 from the U.S. Commerce Department for significant contributions to increasing U.S. exports.

She served as a director of Belleville Memorial Hospital and as president and director of the Belleville Philharmonic Society, which her grandfather conducted until 1935.

In 2004, the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute recognized her contributions to the industry by naming her to the Packaging Hall of Fame.

Mrs. King retired in 1998 and divided her time between Belleville and her home in Telluride, Colo., before moving to Boulder.

“She was first and foremost a lady, with impeccable manners, style and a warm heart that touched all those she came in contact with throughout the world,” said her son, James. “She had an infectious love of life and is remembered fondly as being extremely generous yet remarkably modest considering the scope of her achievements and influence.”

“My grandmother encouraged us to follow our dreams and create, live and laugh. Her motto was ‘Life is uncertain; eat dessert first,’” said her grandson, Alex. “She took us on trips to Greece, Turkey, Paris and Colorado so that my sister Lauren could paint and I could take photos, which has influenced what we do today.” Lauren is pursuing a master’s degree in painting, and Alex is a cinematographer.

A business colleague of five decades, Franco Favata of Milan, Italy, said, “When I ever think of Audrey, I only think positive thoughts.”

Mrs. King is survived by her son, James Marsh King of Belleville, Telluride and Aspen, and two grandchildren, Lauren Spencer King and Alexander Marsh King, both of Los Angeles.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Belleville Philharmonic Society, 116 North Jackson, Belleville, or to the Family Hospice Foundation, 1790 30th Street, Ste. 308, Boulder, CO 80301.

Gayla Hoffman is a freelance writer.

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