Raleigh, N.C. — When Cynthia Marshall speaks, people listen. As president of AT&T of North Carolina, she has reached the height of corporate success. But one has to look no further than her family to see how she is able to thrive in the face of adversity.
“We had four, second-trimester miscarriages. Four. I almost died in all of them. So, at some point, you think, ‘OK, maybe the Lord has another plan,’” Marshall said.
Her fifth attempt produced a daughter, who lived just 6½ months. She and her husband later adopted their first child. By the time they moved to North Carolina, they had three children.
“I try to practice the scripture that says ‘To whom much is given, much is required,’ and this is all a part of it,” Marshall said.
She describes herself as a woman of faith, who grew up in a tough neighborhood outside Oakland, Calif. She says her only escape was school.
“My mother put two books in my hand at an early age – a math book in one hand and a Bible in the other,” she said.
Her parents divorced when she was 15, and she says her father left them with nothing – nothing but hurtful words, which Marshall used as motivation.
“He told me and my youngest sister that we would be hookers on the street without him,” Marshall recalled. “I told my sister when I hung up the phone, ‘That’s not true. We are going to be the first in this family to graduate from college. I’m going to get mom out of these projects.' I said, ‘I’m going to be president of something one day.’”
Marshall lived up to her promise. She attended the prestigious University of California, Berkley on a full scholarship. As AT&T's statewide president, she supervises 7,200 employees and has the ear of presidents.
“I realize I can get through anything. With the help of God, I can get through anything,” she said.
Never did Marshall rely on her faith more than on Dec. 30, 2010 – the day she learned she had Stage 3 colon cancer.
“I just immediately thought about Psalm 91. ‘The Lord is my refuge, my protection. In Him, I will put my trust.’ I told the doctor, ‘You know what, I got three teenagers, with a great big God, I’m going to live, and all of you guys will be a part of this miracle. Let’s rock and roll,’” she said.
Marshall met her grueling chemotherapy treatment head on, spreading her positive spirit by throwing parties every month for her doctors and their staff.
“The infusion suite, I called it the clubhouse. I had names for the place,” she said. “My big chemo pump, I named him Winston.”
Marshall is now cancer-free and says the Lord used her as a vessel to encourage others.
“I just say, ‘Lord, use me. Here I am. Yes, yes, use me,’” she said.
With all she has accomplished in her life, Marshall says she'd like to one day create a program where the elderly are paired with at-risk youth in a mentoring environment.
Editor's note: February is Black History Month, and, each week, our Living the Legacy series profiles an African American in our community who embodies the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.