Published on December 10, 2021

One Last Lift Off

FlightCare pilot honored, reflects on career

Marty Marshall FlightCare pilot

Growing up in Roanoke, Va., Marty Marshall often watched from his front yard as Douglas DC-3s soared overhead, back when jet planes were still allowed to break the sound barrier. Like many raised during the Space Race, he dreamed of being an astronaut.

Marshall may not have made it to space. But he did make it to Chico in 1985, and he hasn’t looked back.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said.

Marshall completed his final flight as a FlightCare pilot on Oct. 7, bookending a 36-year career leading Enloe Medical Center’s Emergency Services Department. Marshall’s last touchdown atop Enloe Medical Center was the first at the new Enloe Marty Marshall Heliport — renamed in his honor. His name is permanently embedded in the hospital’s rooftop.

Marshall will remain Enloe’s EMS director  — a role he’s held since 1998 — as he crafts his succession plan. Though he isn’t fully retired, Marshall already misses the skies above the North State. And with good reason. Marshall didn’t just build a program at Enloe. He built a life here.

Helping a Program Take Off 

Nearly four decades earlier, Marshall couldn’t have told you the first thing about Chico or Enloe Medical Center for that matter. A product of the Army’s flight program, he spent several years flying for an oil company in the Gulf of Mexico. Chico arrived on Marshall’s radar as the air medical industry was taking shape in the United States.

“I had no intention of ever living in California,” said Marshall, who added that he had to look the college town up in an atlas. “I thought everybody had blonde hair and surfed.”

Despite those initial reservations, Marshall made his way to Chico and immediately made his presence known. Robin Kiuttu, then Enloe’s Chief Flight Nurse, recalled Marshall’s unique flight attire: khaki pants, a button-down shirt, penny loafers and a leather bomber jacket. But that wasn’t the only thing that made the red-headed, Southern-accented pilot stand out.

“He was all-in,” she said. “Whatever the challenge was, he was there to take it head on.”

Marshall played an instrumental role in helping FlightCare become the only hospital-owned and operated air medical program in the state. At different points during his career, he served as EMS director, FlightCare director and even as supervisor to the Emergency department. But perhaps his crowning achievement was the relationship he fostered between FlightCare and the community.

“When we started the program, we were not the most popular people in the neighborhood between the sound and the fumes of the helicopter,” Kiuttu said. “So Marty and I would regularly walk the neighborhood, knock on doors, introduce ourselves, and ask them how we can be better neighbors.

“He understood how important that was. He knew what we had to do to make this program successful, and he was ready to jump in with both feet.”

For Marshall, serving the community was the driving force behind his ambitions for FlightCare. Marshall’s goal was to tailor the hospital’s emergency operations to the needs of the community. Administration, he said, embraced the plan.

“From day one, I never wanted to go anywhere else,” Marshall said. “The gratitude and the appreciation I have for the uniqueness of this organization, and this community, is all I needed.”

A Beloved Caregiver

To say the feeling is mutual is an understatement. Enloe Medical Center’s halls are filled with peers who have experienced Marshall’s kindness firsthand. Roger Srouji was hired by Marshall as a FlightCare pilot 21 years ago, and credits Marshall exclusively with the success of the program. Jenny Humphries, Enloe’s current Chief Flight Nurse, was first inspired to get into emergency services when Marshall landed the FlightCare helicopter next to her home as a child.

“To this day, he is by far my most trusted adviser,” said Humphries, who has spent the past two decades working with Marshall. “He has worked hard, often quietly and without recognition, to make sure people in our community get the care they deserve.

“It’s as if he was made to be here, and in this place.”

Jan Ellis, who, alongside Robin Kiuttu, was part of the team that initially hired Marshall, made a nod to his unwavering attention to detail and overwhelming sense of kindness.

“He always worked hard to do the right thing, and he did it in such a charming way. That’s a hard combo to beat,” said Ellis, who retired in 2005 as Enloe’s Vice President of Nursing. “Marty has been such a steady, wonderful Enloe ambassador. I don’t think an organization can overvalue how important that is.”

As beautiful as the aerial views of Mount Shasta, or the familiar treks north to Chester (the destination of both his first and final flights) are, it’s people Marshall will miss the most. There are co-workers and friends from 1985 who still work at Enloe today, as well as generations of caregivers and community members who have grown up during Marshall’s tenure.

“The people, the teams I’ve had over the years, I remember all of them. I love all of them,” Marshall said. “It really comes down to these people. It’s just been a remarkable thing, and it’s flown by.

“I guess it’s been a long career, but it doesn’t seem that long.”

From his first flight to his last, the challenge was the same: save lives and serve the community as best he can. Now, on the eve of retirement, Marshall summed up his career in a way only he could.

“Anybody that knows me,” Marshall said, “knows how much I love this place.”