Mark Jay Marcus of Westport and Jupiter, Florida, a former Westport selectman and official in local and state Democratic politics, died June 20 at Jupiter Pavilion Hospice Center after a valiant, nearly three-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 79.
Mark Marcus: public servant. Contributed photo
Born Feb. 3, 1941, in New York City to Milton and Hilda Neuwerth Marcus, Mark’s lifelong interest in American history and government began at a young age. His was a generation that believed in the honor of being called to public service and he aspired to become president of the United States when he grew up.
Mark attended New York City public schools and was a student at the Dwight School when his parents moved the family to Westport in 1957.
After graduating from Staples High School in the class of 1958, he went on to the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where he majored in history and political science and became a campus leader in the Student Senate, which confirmed his future career in government, along with a number of his student government associates of that era.
As the president of one of the campus’s major political parties, Mark helped to organize student demonstrations for students’ rights and for civil rights.
Following graduation from the University of Connecticut in 1962, Mark married Janice Pierce, an advertising copywriter and member of UConn’s Class of 1960. He attended the University of Connecticut School of Law in West Hartford, then moved with Jan back to his parents’ former home in Westport.
He worked for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Office of Economic Opportunity and was a member of Connecticut’s Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Meanwhile, Mark soon became involved in local government, winning election in his early twenties to the Westport Board of Tax Review.
He ran twice for first selectman (1969 and 1971), losing to Republican John Kemish. As the minority member of the Board of Selectmen, Mark convinced his fellow selectmen to establish a policy with the Recreation Department providing free swimming lessons for every Westport child—a safety measure he considered essential due to the town’s location on Long Island Sound and the Saugatuck River, in addition to its large number of residential swimming pools.
Over the years, Mark also served as vice chairman of the Westport Planning & Zoning Commission with Chair Julie Belaga, was a member of the Westport Charter Revision Commission and the Board of Assessment Appeals.
In addition to serving several terms as chairman of the Westport Democratic Town Committee, Mark was also elected to four terms on the Democratic State Central Committee, representing the Fairfield County Towns of Westport, Wilton, Ridgefield, Redding, New Canaan and Bethel.
On any election night, whether local, state or national, Mark, often accompanied by Jan, could be found at his local District 2 voting headquarters, counting absentee ballots and waiting for the final returns.
During that period, Mark was executive director of the City of Norwalk’s Commission on Human Relations. He moved on to be appointed executive director of the Criminal Justice Supervisory Board of Fairfield County. In that position he developed law enforcement programs for many County communities, including Stamford, Norwalk, Greenwich and Bridgeport.
In partnership with John Herder, former Quinnipiac University president, Mark formed a management consulting company specializing in law enforcement; and in 1974, he joined the New York City management consulting firm of Booz, Allen and Hamilton as a senior consultant in its institutional and public management division.
In 1976, Connecticut Gov. Ella T. Grasso asked Mark to join her administration as deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department now known as the Department of Children and Families. Grasso appointed him commissioner of DCF in 1978, a position to which he was re-appointed by Gov. William O’Neill.
As commissioner under Grasso, Mark coordinated with his counterpart in Massachusetts to pioneer approval of what was then referred to as “gay” adoption, making Massachusetts and Connecticut, within one day of each other, the first and second states in the Union to allow LGBTQ citizens to become adoptive parents.
Mark served as a member of the Governor’s Task Forces on the Homeless, on Child Support and on Teenage Pregnancy. He also served as administrator of the Interstate Compact on Juveniles and was a guest lecturer on political science and public management at Yale University.
Mark will be deeply missed by his family and by everyone who knew him for his brilliant mind, his humility, his ever-present wit and quirky sense of humor.
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Janice; daughter Jennifer and son-in-law Eric Strausser of Trumbull; son Ted (Edward) Marcus and daughter-in-law Margaret LaBombard of New York City; and grandchildren Madeline and Evan Strausser and Charlie-Catherine Marcus.
The family hopes to hold a Celebration of Life for Mark in Westport in the fall.
Contributions in his memory may be made to: The Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter, Florida; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; or Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.