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Robert Marr, business executive and Dorchester Boys and Girls Clubs founder, dies at 86

Mr. Marr, with his wife, Cynthia, at the Ireland Fund Dinner in 1998.BRETT, Bill GLOBE STAFF

Robert Marr believed the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester was his most significant achievement, a legacy that to him towered above the Boston skyline his family’s construction business helped shape.

The organization, which he founded in 1974 with his brother Daniel, now serves thousands of children and youths annually and owes much of its existence to the Marr brothers’ time growing up in the neighborhood, which then had little to offer its youngest residents.

“As I recall my boyhood in Dorchester, the only playground was a mile away,” he told the Globe in 1971, when he and Daniel were raising money to supplement their own sizable contributions to launching the Colonel Daniel Marr Boys Club, initially named for their father. “There were no Scouts, no school entertainment. We used to fight a lot and pick up games on the corners of the street.”

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Mr. Marr, who was part of the fourth generation to run the Marr Companies, died Aug. 7. He was 86 and lived in Boston, where scholarship funds he and his late brother established have helped about 2,000 students attend Catholic schools in the Boston Archdiocese.

“God bless him,” said his friend Bob Scannell, the longtime chief executive of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester. “He’s been a real huge factor for families in Dorchester for 50 years.”

For six decades Mr. Marr served in executive positions such as president and board chairman for the Marr Companies, founded by his great-grandfather in 1898. Through expansion and acquisition of other firms, the company expanded its work to include steel, rigging, equipment, and scaffolding.

Mr. Marr worked for Marr Companies for six decades, including tenures as president and board chairman. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe photo

The scores of construction and renovation projects the company participated in have included the Back Bay Hilton, Westin Copley Place hotel, the former Braves Field, and the Boston Public Library.

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“We’ve had a lot of participation in the history of the skyline in the City of Boston,” Mr. Marr said in a 1998 Globe interview.

In 1974, he founded the Boys and Girls Clubs in Dorchester with his brother Daniel Marr Jr. After the 1969 death of their father, the two ran the family’s business together until Daniel died in 1991. Mr. Marr went on to train subsequent generations.

“I watched and learned and was mentored under the close tutelage of Bob Marr, as well as my father,” said his nephew Daniel F. Marr III, the company’s current chief executive and a son of Daniel Marr Jr.

Daniel said his uncle “had great qualities of leadership and great qualities of philanthropy, of giving back. Bob said that among his lifelong goals were to the take care of the homeless, take care of the hungry, take care of the people in need.”

Mr. Marr “was an extraordinarily generous person to say the least, but he did it in such a quiet, humble, unassuming, unpretentious way,” said Jim Brett, a former state representative who is chief executive of the New England Council, a regional business association.

In Dorchester, Scannell said, Mr. Marr “literally carried the Boys and Girls clubs on his back for many, many years and made sure the resources were there” until the organization became self-supporting through grants and fund-raising.

“He wrote checks, which was critical,” Scannell added, “but he also put in so much time, more than any other volunteer or board member, and made sure the club would function and serve the boys and girls of this area.”

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Doing so filled a neighborhood void that Mr. Marr described in the 1971 Globe interview.

“That section of the city has always been relatively deprived, regarding playground facilities and youth organizations,” he said.

For Dorchester’s girls and boys, he said, a facility with supervised activities would be “better for their development athletically, morally, and competitively.”

Robert L. Marr was born on Jan. 11, 1936, a son of Daniel F. Marr Sr. and Mary Davin Marr.

He attended Cranwell Preparatory School, a Jesuit school in Lenox, where he was the football team’s quarterback and rushed home in 1953 when his older brother John died of wounds suffered just before the armistice took effect in the Korean War.

In 1958, Mr. Marr graduated from the University of Notre Dame and married Doris Good. Their marriage ended in divorce and she died in April 2021.

He served in the Navy, stationed in Illinois, and was discharged as a lieutenant, junior grade before joining his family’s company in 1960, where he stayed until retiring in 2021.

His father was an early co-owner and a cofounder of the Boston Patriots, which became the New England Patriots. Mr. Marr and his brother were involved with the team as well, with Mr. Marr serving as president in 1974 and ‘75.

Quarterback Steve Grogan joined the team in 1975 and formed a friendship that lasted past his time on the field and Mr. Marr;s time as a team executive.

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“I would run into him at charity events. He was a great man. He remembered a lot of things about my career that I had forgotten,” Grogan said with a chuckle. “He never gave up being a fan.”

Mr. Marr later married Cynthia M. Carpenter, who had run an interior design practice since the 1980s and was a career music minister in the Catholic Church.

“He had a very strong faith,” she said. “We were able, over 30 years, to really grow in our faith, and that’s been a blessing.”

In philanthropy as in work, Mr. Marr made use of his “good, dry Irish sense of humor,” she said, as he listened carefully to others before speaking “in measured words about what resonated with him.”

To better the lives of children and youths, she said, Mr. Marr brought business and civic leaders “along with what was obviously an inherent vision that he had, and I would go so far as to say to be Christ-like for others.”

In addition to Cynthia and Daniel, Mr. Marr leaves his sister, Judith M. Spyrou of Bonita Springs, Fla.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in St. Agatha Church in Milton. Burial will be in St. Joseph Cemetery in West Roxbury.

In 1974, Mr. Marr was elected to serve as captain-commander of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Co. of Massachusetts, the western hemisphere’s oldest chartered military organization. Beginning in the early 1990s, he served for 15 years on Boston’s Zoning Commission, including as chairman.

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“He was a very clear, straightforward guy,” said Joe Brodigan, who had been Mr. Marr’s friend and lawyer for more a half a century.

“In all the years that I knew him, I never knew him to tell a lie,” Brodigan said. “I know people say that about people, and it can sound trite, but in his case it was absolutely the truth. He just didn’t lie. He told the truth, and wherever it landed, it landed.”

Such honesty is only part of how friends will remember Mr. Marr, Brett said.

“His legacy is not just as a very successful builder of buildings,” Brett said. “His legacy is building the careers of young boys and girls in Dorchester who had a chance to grow and flourish and become very successful citizens because he built a structure for them to do that.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.