By Nancye Tuttle
LOWELL -- Paul Marion doesn't brag about his accomplishments or take credit for making things happen. But behind the scenes, the soft-spoken Marion has been a key player in making Lowell a better place to live, work and play for nearly 40 years.
The Greater Lowell Kiwanis Club celebrates Marion's community service and honors him with its 2012 Thomas Kelakos Community Spirit Award on March 23 at a banquet at Lenzi's in Dracut.
"It's humbling to be singled out, since so much of what I do is about partnerships and collaborations, but I've always tried to be a leader," said Marion, 58, executive director of community and cultural affairs at University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Marion was a natural choice for the award, said Bob Howard, the event chairman, because he reflects many of the same qualities -- wisdom, compassion, generosity and commitment to the ideals of Kiwanis -- that Kelakos possessed. Kelakos died in 2000.
"Paul has many of the qualities of our revered past member, Tom Kelakos," said Howard. "Paul has deep roots in Lowell and has been working for years to help make the city a special place."
Marion, a Lowell native who grew up in Dracut, has worked to revitalize the city since the 1970s, not long after he graduated from University of Lowell in 1974 with a bachelor's degree in political science.
"Timing is everything and I was coming of age just as this great Renaissance in Lowell was starting to take shape," he said.
The consummate collaborator, over the years he's held jobs and served on committees that created Lowell National Historical Park, Brush Art Gallery and Studios, Lowell Public Art Collection, the Jack Kerouac Commemorative and Boarding House Park. He's a founder of the Lowell Folk Festival and the Lowell Heritage Partnership.
Also a writer, he started Loom Press, which publishes books about Lowell and the Merrimack Valley by local authors.
He's written dozens of grants and hundreds of poems and essays. He's working part time for the Lowell National Historic Park to write a book celebrating the park's 30th anniversary.
"I've been a witness, an observer and a participant at the park and know it all orally. But now, putting it into writing is the challenge," he said.
His work at UMass Lowell in the past decade has given him the chance to see community and culture intertwine on a larger scale.
"It's extraordinary to see how integrated the university is with the city, and education and culture are the best ways to continue moving forward here in Lowell," he said.
While the city remains a "work in progress," Marion is confident the momentum is here for Lowell to continue transforming itself into a world-class small city.
Marion is proud he's played a part in Lowell's success.
"It's great being involved in something bigger than myself and to help people live fuller lives," he said.
Marion receives the Thomas G. Kelakos Community Spirit Award from the Greater Lowell Kiwanis at a banquet on Friday, March 23, at The Mill House, Lenzi's Catering, Dracut. Cocktails, 6:30 p.m.; dinner, 7:30 p.m. $60 per person. Call Bob Howard for tickets at 978-459-4836.