Big Fish Q&A with WBAL Radio Journalist and Autism Activist Mary Beth Marsden

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About one-third of the way into Michael Kun’s wry 2003 epistolary comic novel The Locklear Letters, congenial, if often clueless, protagonist Sid Straw pitches himself as a prospective columnist to The Baltimore Sun, suggesting as potential subject matter “how it’s hard to look intellectual when you’re cracking open a crab with a mallet; how no one goes to Orioles games anymore because the team stinks; and how I saw the anchorwoman for Channel 2 news, Mary Beth Marsden, in the mall last week, and she’s even prettier in person than she is on TV.”
 
A Johns Hopkins graduate who now works as an attorney in Los Angeles, Kun also references Marsden admiringly in his novels You Poor Monster (2005) and My Wife and My Dead Wife (2004). Fact: He’s not a literary stalker. Like millions of others who watched Marsden on WMAR-TV from 1988 to 2009, Kun understands and appreciates Marsden’s innate affability and unpretentiouness — the sense that you know her (and like her), even if you’ve never met her.
 
“Mentioning her in my books has been something of an inside joke between us and hopefully maintains my Baltimore street cred,” Kun explains. “For whatever reason, Marsden reminds me of Baltimore as much as anyone.” 
    
Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Montgomery County, Mary Beth Marsden earned a degree in Radio, Television, and Film from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1983, and then embarked on a media career, working as a TV news producer, anchor, or reporter in D.C. (1985-1987), Harrisburg (also the station’s “weather girl,” she admits, in 1987), and Scranton (1987-1988), before joining Baltimore’s Channel 2. (For a kick, witness her succumb to a good-natured on-air laughing fit at WMAR.)
 
After parting company with the station in 2009, Marsden, whose daughter Tess has autism, founded the website reallookautism.com this past July; via compelling and compassionate short narrative videos, the site, according to Marsden, serves as a “visual resource [that] presents different therapies and strategies … for working with children who have autism spectrum disorders.” Two months later, she signed on as afternoon news anchor with WBAL Radio.
 
Now 49, Marsden lives in Ruxton with her husband, former WBAL-TV reporter/photographer Mark McGrath (now a vice president/financial advisor at Stifel Nicolaus), and their three children: 13-year-old Jack, 12-year-old George, and 10-year-old Tess. Not surprisingly, Marsden surfaces again in Kun’s upcoming Everybody Says Hello, scheduled for publication this spring.     

 

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.   

Figure it out, make choices, and then go for it — find something to create and give thanks.

 

When did you define your most important goals, and what are they? 

Right now, my goal is to do the best I can and try not to waste time worrying. 

 

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed

I guess the best advice was from my father, who used to tell us all the time that life isn’t fair, so I never expected it to be.

 

The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it? 

“Why don’t you grow your hair?” That’s advice from my mother, which I ignore every six weeks.
 

What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime?

1) There’s freedom in saying “no.” 

2) Prayer helps. 

3) Sometimes bigger is better, and sometimes less is more.

 

What is the best moment of the day? 

I have a few. Driving my daughter to school, we say very little to each other, and I think it’s meditative for both of us. After a workout. And whenever the kids are asleep (kidding).

 

What is on your bedside table? 

An iPad, the Bible, A Game of Thrones (by George R.R. Martin), Kleenex, eye shades, and always a glass of water.

What is your favorite local charity? 

Any local autism 501c3.

 
What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing? 

Be curious. And have an annoying need for answers and a belief that what you are doing not only satisfies your desire to know something new but also fills an important service of providing
information. Lastly, go for it, but don’t do it for money or fame.

 

Why are you successful?

It’s not really something I measure in myself. I have wins and losses. Hopefully, I learn from the latter and don’t sit celebrating the former too long.

 

To date, what have you found to be the most challenging aspect of switching from television to radio broadcasting? What has been the most surprising difference between the two media?

Remembering to turn my microphone on and off and stop calling my listeners “viewers.” Radio is amazingly immediate; television takes an army. On radio, I never have a bad hair day.

 

What motivated you to create your website devoted to autism? What do you hope to achieve with the project?

Our daughter was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) nearly six years ago. Last spring, I started producing “solution-based” videos of children with autism for reallookautism.com. I want everyone in the world to view them, but they are created first and foremost as guides for parents and teachers who are trying to help a child with an ASD.

 

When you and your husband want to indulge in a romantic dinner together — temporarily escaping the kids, escaping your jobs, escaping the myriad daily responsibilities of your lives — where do you go? Why that restaurant? And what is your favorite dish on the menu?

Mark and I do need to get out more and let the kids stay home and game themselves to death.
When we do, it’s often to a restaurant we haven’t tried before. Last time we ate out, we went to Rocket to Venus in Hampden. Good beer selection, nice salad.

 



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2 COMMENTS

  1. Mary Beth Marsden is fantastic! As a mom of a child on the autism spectrum, I really admire her http://www.RealLookAutism.com site and her vision for making people’s lives better by sharing information in a friendly, accessible way. Thanks for writing the article!

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