Positive influences leave lasting impressions on lives.
Whether it was as a husband and father, a friend who was always there, or the family member who could be counted on for anything, Marshall Insley, 41, was all of these things and more. And his legacy of positivity lives on, despite losing his life to colorectal cancer in 2021.
Marshall Insley ‘02 had an impact on many people throughout his life, and the inaugural Marshall Insley Classic at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, in July was a testament to that. Insley’s friends founded the tournament to honor him and to raise funds and awareness for colorectal cancer research at UNC Lineberger through the Marshall Insley Cancer Research Fund.
“He was always just a happy, very positive person,” said his mother, Libby Insley, of Georgetown, South Carolina. “Friendships were very important to him, even when he was young. The tournament represented celebrating his life and was a way to come together for many. His friends came from all over the country, and it was special that they cared so much to put forth that kind of an effort in memory of him.”
Marshall, husband to Liz Insley and father of two, was a natural athlete who walked on to Carolina’s soccer team before graduating with a business degree. He pursued a career in finance, successfully navigating several companies and positions until he found the perfect fit with business partners and friends Jim Buccola and UNC alum Christian Wall ‘97 at Cantor Fitzgerald in New York.
A shocking diagnosis
Marshall was young and in good shape from weekly gym workouts with Wall. A cancer diagnosis was the furthest thing from his mind when he complained of pain in his left side. It turned out to be a tumor in his liver.
“We were in shock because Marshall was such a healthy individual. He was an avid soccer player, in tremendous shape, and we were amazed that it could happen to such a healthy, strong person,” said Carolina alum Kent Insley ‘00, Marshall’s older brother. “Marshall and the doctors had an aggressive treatment plan, because of who he was. The reality is that we knew it would be a very difficult fight for him to win, but we always hoped and prayed that his strength and positive attitude would win out in the end.”
Wall said Marshall was honest with him and Buccola about his diagnosis, but that his natural positivity masked the severity of his condition. “He sat with Jimmy and I and laid out for us what he had going on,” Wall said. “Marshall was amazingly clinical about it. People talk about Marshall’s positivity, and we were great partners, because I tend to be volatile, and Marsh, he was always very steady. He said ‘Hey pal, it’s going to be fine.’”
Their friendship and partnership was significant to Wall and Buccola, and losing him hit the pair hard. The trio, along with other friends and Kent Insley, often traveled across the country for pleasure, playing golf in Sea Island, Georgia, or skiing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Marshall was a key ingredient in making their friendship work.
Honoring and celebrating a friend
After Marshall’s death, Wall and Buccola wanted to honor their friend the best way they knew how, and in the spirit of those golf trips, launched the Marshall Insley Classic.
“The goal of the day for us was to raise money for the [Marshall Insley Cancer Research Fund]. It turned into a wonderful celebration of him. From his kids hitting balls on the first tee, and his brother and dad speaking afterwards, to [his wife] Liz with Jimmy and I to welcome everyone, it was a total success,” Wall said. “And we look forward to making it an annual event. I really hope that we raise a critical mass of funds that actually helps people. There’s nothing more that he would have wanted. Nothing. That’s just who he was.”
The fund will support colorectal cancer research, including the exploration of tumor markers that could improve efficacy in future immunotherapy trials and the study of the diet and microbiome of patients to better understand causes and prevention of colorectal cancer. Future funding priorities include hiring a dedicated staff member who will coordinate clinical trials with other institutions, expanding patient access to more trials and helping to boost patient participation.
“We found it frustrating that Marshall had difficulty getting into clinical trials,” said his father, Glen Insley. “Part of our goal, while we want to move cancer research forward, we want to make leading edge clinical trials available to more people.”
Wall said plans are already underway for another tournament next year, and Kent Insley said he hopes to hold other events in Westchester, New York, and in the Southeast to reach even more people who were unable to attend the inaugural tournament but still want to contribute in Marshall’s memory. Libby Insley agreed, noting that his last touches with many people were so positive in nature, and that’s the way he wanted it.
“It helps people in some way, to be so positive going forward and still trying to help others. My mantra is always ‘that’s what Marshall would have wanted.’ That’s the impetus behind things that I do and the way I try to react to things. It’s positive,” she said.
Wall said he will always do something to honor his friend’s memory and thinks he would be humbled by the response to the tournament and the research fund.
“Marshall would be smiling down on all of us, so happy to see all of us together and celebrating and honoring him and so proud of what collectively we’d all achieved,” Kent Insley said. “He would be pleased that we would be able to help families in the future that were experiencing the same type of difficult time that he’d experienced.”
“He led a life worth celebrating and was a person worth celebrating,” Glen Insley said. “I think he would’ve been surprised and happy and proud. He was known for his smile, and I think he’d be smiling.”