Less than a two-hour drive over country
roads, in Red House, the Marston family’s
first home was a single-wide trailer.
Marston’s parents had a modest upbringing
but, through frugal living, saved enough to
open a grocery store and eventually run their
own tobacco farming operation.
They kept moving on up. Literally.
Marston recalls his family acquiring more
and more, so every few years, they would
move to a bigger house a few miles farther
up on the same road. When teachers at his
school would ask for his address for various
forms for new school years, Marston always
gave a different answer. “They thought I
kept forgetting my address because the
road stayed the same, but the numbers kept
changing,” he says.
Once Marston turned 8, he started to work
the family tobacco fields.
“There are a lot of things you learn in a
tobacco field,” Marston says. “Part of it is
just survival. When you wake up at 5: 30 in
the morning and go into the tobacco fields,
you might run across anything—snakes or
whatever. You don’t get to pick what day
you work and what the temperature will be.
It’s damp, it’s hot, it’s sweaty—but so what?
You’ve got a task you’ve got to perform.”
Every May, the 6-inch tobacco seedlings
would be planted, and all the valuable
leaves would be hand-picked and hung in
the curing shed before autumn’s first frost.
Between those milestones, many other
things had to happen to nurture the plants
from 6 inches to 6 feet: plowing, chemical
treatments, cutting back the plant to ensure
quality growth, and the painstaking pruning
of side shoots called “suckers,” which
sprouted between the leaves and the stalk.
Until he was 18, Marston worked the fields
every summer, popping off suckers, and
later plucking the leaves from the stalk. He
remembers the satisfying snapping sound—
and doing it all barehanded.
“You’d get laughed out of the field if you
even looked for a pair of gloves,” he says.
“The plants start maturing from the bottom
up to the top, so you pick the bottom leaves
off first. You do it in waves. You pick the
bottom third, then the middle, then the top.
You pick until you get a big armful, and then
you throw the leaves in a box. Then you take
that to a barn where they are cured. And
your dad’s getting up in the middle of the
night to check the barn to make sure that
they’re the right temperature. And once it’s
finished curing, it’s a matter of putting them
into these bundles, and then you take those
bundles off to the tobacco market. At the
end of the day, they got tallied up, and your
dad would get handed a bigger check than
you’d ever seen in your life, which was kind of
a cool thing.”
Marston can’t help smiling as he recalls
working alongside his father, whom he
describes as the hardest-working and
smartest guy he ever met—a man who never
met a problem he couldn’t solve. “He would
always say, ‘I want you to work this hard in
the tobacco fields now because I don’t want
you to have to do this when you grow up.’”
WHEN MARSTON APPLIED FOR A
summer internship with Gentry Locke
in 1992, managing partner Rudy Austin
says he saw in Marston a man who was
smart, responsible and industrious. The
firm offered Marston a job right out of law
school, which he accepted after a short
clerkship in Norfolk.
One of Marston’s big early cases was
Eddie M. Yates vs. Pitman Manufacturing,
a personal injury matter for a worker
whose foot had been crushed by a truck’s
outrigger—the metal pad that presses
against the ground to keep the vehicle
from tipping over. Marston represented the
injured plaintiff, who was no longer able to
work or walk properly. He knows the case
well; he tried it three times.
“It was a week each time in Grundy,
Virginia,” says Marston. “Tried the case, got
a hung jury; tried the case and lost; appealed
to the Supreme Court, got reversed; and
tried it again and lost. Never won the case,
but it gave me a lot of hands-on education.”
Two years after Marston’s arrival at the
firm, the newly opened construction law
practice needed an associate. Marston
was tapped, and quickly impressed. “We
tried a weeklong case together involving a
wastewater treatment client,” says Austin.
“The case had to do with a biological and
chemical process for the treatment of sewage
that our client had spent a lot of money on.
[Marston] was in charge of the technical
aspects of the case, cross-examining their
expert and putting on our expert. He was
calm, authoritative and did an excellent job.
We had sued for [about] $1.8 million and
change, and the jury gave us every penny.”
Marston so impressed that within
a couple of years, Austin turned the
“The first time
I was up against
him, I knew I was
in for a good
fight. I also knew
it was going to
be fun, because
such an ethical,
kind of way.”