Tribute to Johnny Marr – a man who loved chess

May 20th, 2011

Yesterday I heard that an old friend had died.

I first met Johnny Marr when I was about 14, at the Edinburgh Chess Club which would be his second home for most of his life. A friendly affable man he was popular at the club and always had an encouraging word for the many juniors who were members back in the late 60s and early 70s. I knew his son Donald who at 15 was already a very strong player although he took time out from the game to study for exams. I remember a school trip to the Edinburgh Crystal Glass Works which was then down in Leith. Johnny worked there and recognizing me gave me a shot at blowing glass. He later came into the club with a hand made glass chess set which he had built which was absolutely gorgeous.

Johnny simply adored chess and, although he never pushed on to be a top player, through constant playing he developed a wily and imaginative style that could occasionally trip up the very best. Geoff Chandler probably played Johnny more times than anyone else and has written affectionately about him here and here. He was always around the club in the days when it was busy nearly every night and Geoff, who was caretaker for a few years, would often play him into the early hours.

I took 17 years away from the game then decided to go back to the club and see if I could still play. First person I saw when I walked in was Johnny! We shared some interesting games and he was always a tough nut to crack even when age started to reduce his playing standards. Even in his 80s he used to cycle up to the club from his home near Easter Road, and in his 90s he was still there, still playing remarkably well, and often winning tournaments only a little below his former standard. Whenever a team captain was short of a player Johnny would be happy to step in if it was legal to do so. Whenever a new player or a visitor to the city came into the club it was always Johnny that offered to play them first. He loved showing the bright young juniors that old folk could play a damn good game too, but always encouraged them to improve.

Some years ago I had the honour of proposing he be made an honorary member of the club (passed unanimously and with acclamation) and more recently I presented the prizes at the Allegro Tournament we held in celebration of his 90th birthday.

He simply was a fixture at the club and a large part of its character. He was a gentleman and a sportsman and I count myself fortunate to have known him. We’ll all miss him dreadfully and he certainly won’t be forgotten. Farewell Johnny, and thank you.


Dave Hewitt has written an article about Johnny’s passing for the Caledonian Mercury.

Today was the funeral and there was a very large turnout, which showed perfectly how wide a circle of people had known and loved him. Far more than most such occasions the atmosphere was of a celebration of a life well lived and full, and we all had only good memories of him. I hope that was a comfort to his family.

He was mentioned again at the Chess Edinburgh AGM this evening –  everyone there had known him and most had played him. The next time any of us play a match I’m certain he’ll be in our thoughts.

Entry Filed under: Chess,Personal

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Donald Marr  |  May 20th, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Thank you Bill. My father loved chess and always spoke warmly of the members of the Edinburgh club.Thank you again on behalf of his family for your kind words. Donald

  • 2. billmarshall  |  May 21st, 2011 at 11:34 am

    You’re most welcome Donald. The warmth of feeling in the entire Scottish chess community for your dad shows what a lovely man he was and I hope it provides some solace for you and the rest of the family.

  • 3. Much-loved Edinburgh ches&hellip  |  May 25th, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    […] glassblower at the Edinburgh Crystal glassworks, and he joined the Edinburgh club in 1966. He had, Marshall recalls, “a wily and imaginative style that could occasionally trip up the very best” – and he was an […]

  • 4. Munroe  |  March 7th, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    I’d like to leave this belated tribute to Johnny Marr. I played at the Edinburgh Chess Club in the early 90’s when posted to RAF Turnhouse. Playing chess in Edinburgh was the most enjoyable part of my chess career to date. This was in no small part due to the fantastic personality of Johnny. He was always willing to play a game on almost every day of the week (and time of night!). If there were more players who enthused about the game like Johnny, Chess would be a far more high profile game.

    RIP Johnny, you were one of a kind.

  • 5. billmarshall  |  March 7th, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Thanks Munroe, he certainly was, and we still miss him dearly.
    Trust you’re doing well.
    best wishes

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