Parents remember son for his ability to bring family together

CHAMPAIGN – Shawn Marmion relished preparing and filing his son's income tax return. It wasn't because he was expecting a whopping refund.

"When I folded up the form, I did it so slowly. That was the strangest feeling. I realized that as his dad, this is one of the last physical things I got to do for him," said Shawn Marmion. "It was a hard moment, but I treasured it."

Last May 18, Travis Marmion died after being shot in the chest during what was described as a wrestling match with an Urbana man who was at a party in the house across Ells Avenue in Champaign from where Travis lived. Travis was 26 years old.

The man who killed him, Leo Robinson, 21, of Urbana, pleaded guilty in August to aggravated discharge of a firearm and is serving a 50-month prison sentence.

The ensuing 11 months have been hellish for Travis' immediate family, which includes his parents, Shawn, 47, a lieutenant with the Champaign Fire Department, and Karen, 44, a nurse at the Carle Cancer Center. Travis also left behind two brothers and two sisters ranging in age from 24 to 18.

"The kids were so close," Karen said. "They were not only brothers and sisters; they were all best friends."

Added Shawn: "He was their leader, the person they went to when they needed direction."

For several weeks last spring, Shawn and Travis were planning a June fishing trip to Canada. Shawn called that trip, which Travis didn't get to make, a gift because of the many hours they spent together anticipating it. He even talked to his son by phone at the party where he was killed about going to Big R in Danville the next day to buy more fishing equipment.

"I got those phone records. We talked 36 minutes. That's the longest conversation I'd had that month with anybody," said Shawn, overwhelmed with gratitude for that chance.

The Marmions later learned that their son's cell phone was stolen that night. It was not among his personal belongings that police released to them 90 days after Robinson's case was closed. They hoped to get it to retrieve videos their son had taken.

For several months after his death, the family displayed signs on the white picket fence in front of Travis' house at 303 Ells Ave. that faced the home where he was shot. The signs called Travis a loving son, grandson and brother. They proclaimed how much his family and friends missed him.

Travis, who was single and a drywaller by trade, had lived in his small house about 11 months. It was his first home purchase.

"He lived with us while he was saving up to buy it," Karen said. "He was real excited. He would call me and ask what kind of vacuum should he get."

Karen Marmion was intimately familiar with the neighborhood. She grew up next door in the house that her parents, Shirley and Bill Whalen, have lived in almost 52 years. It was to their home that Shawn and Karen brought their first-born in May 1980 on their way home from the hospital after his birth. Early in their 27-year marriage, Shawn and Karen lived a block away on Avondale.

After Travis' death, his house sat empty for several months.

"We weren't able to even move Travis' stuff out for quite a while. We decided to go do it one time. Everything was just like he had left it. I took the sheets off his bed. I just broke down. I couldn't do it. We put them back on, and it was quite a while before we actually moved (his belongings)," Karen said.

In December, the Marmions rented the house to their nephew and his fiance. Travis was very close to his cousin and was supposed to be in his wedding.

"We're happy they're there," Shawn said. "We wanted to keep it in the family."

Besides the house, Travis' only other major possessions, his parents said, were his car and his dog. Brother Seth, 23, is driving the car. And Polo, Travis' pit bull, is now entrenched in the elder Marmions' Champaign home.

"He was Travis' pride and joy," Karen said. "We debated about getting rid of him. It just never worked out."

Shawn said Polo's personality is a reflection of their son's warm, friendly demeanor.

"We love him. We walk him every day. If we can't have Travis, it's nice to have the dog," he said.

Given Travis' love of dogs, the Marmions designated the Champaign County Humane Society as a memorial. Although they never learned how much was donated in their son's name, the director informed them it might have been a record amount. They've made donations to other charities in his name, too.

On Saturday, the Marmions, their extended family and more than 100 friends gathered in West Side Park in Champaign under blue, sunny skies to plant a white oak tree in his name that could live as long as 200 years. The idea came from Shawn's parents.

"It's a living memorial. It can grow to 80 to 100 feet tall. It is near the playground and the police and fire memorial. That's where me and little Shawn go to play," Shawn said of his namesake grandson, who recently got a little brother named River Travis after his late uncle.

"That's the thing that can keep him alive in our hearts. I plan on being there every day. We walk the dog past that place. West Side Park is just a couple hundred yards from our house," he said.

Shawn and Karen Marmion said they've been moved by the many notes and comments they've received, telling them how Travis touched others' lives – things they didn't know about.

Those comments, along with regular attendance at a grief support group at Provena Covenant Medical Center, have been a great help. They lament that there are few similar outlets for their adult children, who are equally grief-stricken.

"This has actually brought our family closer together," Shawn said. "I've always thought our children were a precious gift, but now I think our children are so much more precious."

Karen said she can't help but worry about her remaining children but has put her trust in God.

"It's kind of scary. There's no guarantee that just because we've lost one, it couldn't happen again."

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