Virgil Marson, co-owner of legendary Andover Shop, dies at 94

Mr. Marson cofounded the Andover Shop in 1948. He ran the company’s Andover location while his brother-in-law Charlie Davidson handled the other shop in Cambridge.
Mr. Marson cofounded the Andover Shop in 1948. He ran the company’s Andover location while his brother-in-law Charlie Davidson handled the other shop in Cambridge.

During the years Virgil Marson lived in Andover, he was a walking advertisement for his business as he headed to and from work at the Andover Shop each day.

“He just loved rustic tweeds. Even though he’s Armenian, if you met him, you’d think, geez, he’s from Ireland or Scotland,” said his daughter, Nina Marson Roche. “The way he’d walk around with that tweed cap — it would be freezing and snowing in Andover, and he believed in walking to work, no overcoat.”

Cofounding the Andover Shop in 1948 with his brother-in-law Charlie Davidson, Mr. Marson became a legendary, if discreet, figure in Greater Boston men’s clothing. He ran the company’s Andover location while Davidson handled the other shop in Cambridge.


Though Mr. Marson was known for not discussing his prominent clients, who included politicians and foreign ambassadors, they were effusive about him when praising his life and work. “So many of them start the conversation with, ‘You know, your father is my hero,’ ” his daughter said.

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Mr. Marson, who had divided his time between Naples, Fla., and the Little Boar’s Head section of North Hampton, N.H., died Oct. 2 in Naples. He was 94.

How essential were the two locations of the Andover Shop in the heyday of the businesses? The late, legendary Globe columnist George Frazier was a customer. Hailed as “an arbiter of elegance” in his 1974 obituary, Frazier decided that the Andover Shop had “duende” — his word for the finer things in life that possess an abundance of charisma and presence.

In his role with the business, Mr. Marson not only ran the Andover Shop, he traveled to remote locations in search of fine tweeds.

“Every year he’d go to Scotland and Ireland, and go to different rural places and tell them what he was looking for so he could get exclusives on the fabrics,” his daughter said. “He made it look like a lot of fun.”


Some of that “fun” was lost on his wife, Dorothy, when she accompanied him on his shopping excursions. “He did it for years by himself, and then he thought he’d let my mother come,” said Nina, who also lives in Naples and Little Boar’s Head. “She enjoyed it a lot, but she had to get used to it.”

Among the rural locations Mr. Marson visited were some that were so far north that only small planes could fly him into the remote communities. While he enjoyed the adventures, his wife was more tentative, particularly during inclement weather.

Mr. Marson, however, “just loved it,” his daughter said. “He loved the fabrics, the lifestyle.”

The oldest of four children, Virgil Marson grew up in Whitinsville, a village in Northbridge.

His parents, both Armenian immigrants, were Moses Marsoopian, who worked in a factory, and Kohar Stambolian, a homemaker. Neither spoke English.


“A couple a months ago, I called one of my father’s sisters and said, ‘My father says he thinks he’s at the end of his road,’ ” Nina recalled. “She said, ‘You know what, he never had a childhood.’ ”

‘Every year he’d go to Scotland and Ireland, and go to different rural places and tell them what he was looking for so he could get exclusives on the fabrics.’

As the oldest child and only son, Mr. Marson took on extra responsibilities at home, including nearly anything that involved facility with speaking and writing in English.

At Christmastime, his daughter said, Mr. Marson would write messages on presents to his sisters: “To Alice, love Santa, To Anita, love Santa, To Keene, love Santa.”

“By the time he was 9, he was doing his parents’ tax returns,” Nina said. “It’s tough when you have parents who don’t speak English.”

Mr. Marson attended Worcester Academy on a scholarship, and landed another scholarship to go to Brown University, from which he graduated in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree.

He also played football for the university, and interrupted his studies at 19 to enlist during World War II. He served in the Army Air Forces and was a first lieutenant in the 449th Bomb Group, his daughter said.

During a mission to bomb oil refineries near Ploiesti, Romania, the bomber he was in was shot down, Nina said, and Mr. Marson was captured after parachuting out of the plane. Mr. Marson was a prisoner of war, and after he was released, he was awarded a Purple Heart for the shrapnel wounds he had suffered in his arms.

Mr. Marson then returned to finish his studies at Brown. In 1947, a year before graduating, he married Dorothy Davidson, whom he had met at a church social held in the Armenian community. He also changed his last name to Marson.

Upon graduating from college, Mr. Marson formed a partnership with her brothers Charlie and John Davidson and opened the Andover Shop in Andover.

John eventually went into real estate, and the store’s Cambridge location opened in 1953.

Earlier this year, Charlie Davidson and Mr. Marson began seeking a buyer for their stores.

While his children were growing up, Mr. Marson retained more than a touch of his military bearing. “When I was a kid going off to first grade — and I loved my school and everything — he’d say, ‘Give ’em hell, sweetheart. See you at 1800 hours,’ ” Nina recalled.

An exercise aficionado before gyms became popular, Mr. Marson stepped outside his house before 5 a.m. for seven-mile runs, she said, and he would double the distance on weekends.

“Even in his car, he’d always have tennis balls or something to squeeze while he was driving,” she said. “He was always working out.”

With his wife, Mr. Marson would go to musicals, and he also attended the Newport Jazz Festival annually. After Dorothy died at age 62, “he was grateful that he had his work,” Nina said. “It kept him sane.”

In addition to Nina, Mr. Marson leaves his son, David; two sisters, Keene Ovian of Jacksonville, Fla., and Anita Parker of New York City; a grandson; and his companion and close friend, Sheila Mahoney of Methuen.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Andover Country Club.

After meeting Sheila, Mr. Marson “got to have his childhood late in life,” Nina said.

“Just for fun, they’d go to Ireland a couple of times a year, just for a few days,” Nina added.

The couple also went to Italy to spend time in Venice, visited Taos, N.M., and took trips to Manhattan.

“I’d get postcards in capital letters, ‘THIS IS IT,’ or, ‘Having the time of my life,’ ” Nina said. “So he had his childhood, but he did it in reverse.”

Bryan Marquard
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