Some people are larger than life; our friend Jeff Marcus certainly was. It is sad that I am writing in the past tense about him. He passed away on January 18, due to complications from Covid.
Everybody in San Diego’s magic community and all their friends and family will miss him. A member of Ring 76, San Diego’s branch of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, Jeff was beloved as a leader and devoted friend. He was always handy with a deck of cards and a trick or two, using sleight of hand right before everyone’s eyes. He enjoyed a good meal and a great joke. He loved people, giving generously to them his time, help and a listening ear.
Most importantly, Jeff was the best friend of my husband Rich. Also a magician, Rich had met Jeff in 1975 at a Ring 76 meeting. Jeff went out of his way to make Rich feel welcome and they became great friends. Jeff and his wife Peg have long been two of our best friends throughout our 18-year marriage. We met for Mexican or Italian food for dinner and long conversations about current events and what was going on in our lives.
Jeff was all about being with others and making them feel comfortable, giving in any way he could. When Rich and I got married, Jeff was our best man, Peg was my matron of honor. Jeff took pictures of our wedding and the reception lunch with family members and friends. When Rich and I came home after the honeymoon, we found a cute framed cartoon drawing of us with hearts swirling about us, and the words “Welcome Home, Mr. and Mrs. Robertson.” Jeff had designed it on his computer. Rich and I kept that framed piece of simple art near our front door for years.
Over the years Rich and Jeff took many trips together to the Magic Castle, the world-famous private club for magicians and their guests in Hollywood. The two of them would also meet regularly to have dinner out; nearly always they ran across someone Jeff knew. He joked with folks at other tables when we went out to eat or he’d do magic for them.
He’d always thank someone wearing a military hat or clothes for their service. He was friendly to all, Rich remembers.
Not only did they attend magic shows together, sometimes they performed together. Rich remembers a time when he and Jeff went into a store near the venue where they were going to perform. They asked the store owner if they could use the restroom to change into their magic outfits. The store owner seemed to be eyeing them suspiciously.
When they came out of the restroom in their tuxes, the owner looked very relieved. He explained to them that when they had asked to change their clothes there, he had assumed we were like the others who had done the same–prisoners from the prison down the street who needed to change out of their prison gear because they had just gotten their freedom, Rich explained.
It was one of the many stories that Jeff liked to tell. He could pull stories from his memory just as easily as he could a rabbit from a hat—which he often did in his magic shows for children. But he was also known and loved by people for the help and encouragement that he gave. Such is the case with another local magician and our mutual friend, Richard Ustick, an El Cajon resident.
Right out of high school, Richard met Jeff in 1975. Jeff introduced Richard to Ring 76 and the camaraderie of the local magic camaraderie. They spent many long days and evenings together when Richard was young, broke, and in college.
He was my first “adult” friend, Richard told me.
Jeff always had big dreams and grand ambitions and Richard was often with him when he started something. Together they created a video production area at the local hospital where Richard worked. Jeff helped write and produce medical instructional tapes and taught photography to Richard, who was soon photographing weddings and doing portrait work.
“He was there for every milestone in my life. He was the big brother that I never had,” Richard said.
Another mutual friend is Greg Wauson, also a magician in San Diego. “What a tough loss for all of us who knew him as a good friend! This is a huge hit to the magic community, especially in San Diego,” he said.
Yet Greg is very grateful for the times and memories made with Jeff whom he met in 1991 at Ring 76.
“He was always thinking of funny things to do,” Greg said.
One project Jeff had was of getting people to take pictures of well-known magicians while he photo-bombed the picture by showing up in the photo behind the people. He was hoping to eventually ask David Copperfield, the world’s most famous magician, to help with the project. That opportunity came about in 2017 when he went to a party in Las Vegas where David Copperfield showed up. Jeff had someone else take his own picture while Copperfield photo-bombed it. Greg was with Jeff during that photo-bombing and has a copy of it.
Jeff had a knack for gathering crowds around him. Greg told me of a time that he and Jeff were flying back on Southwest Airlines from a magicians’ convention in Sacramento about twenty years ago. They were sitting in the same row on the plane, and Jeff was showing fellow passengers some fun magic tricks with rubber bands. People in the rows behind Jeff were all standing up so they could watch.
A big ache in my heart I feel right now for Rich and I and all of our mutual friends having lost Jeff. I can only imagine the depth of the sorrow Peg feels. Jeff was the love of her life. I feel in some ways I have lost her, too, in Jeff’s passing, for she will be moving from San Diego to be close to her family in Texas. It’s an understandable move, and yet I cry. But I am filled with gratitude for having known both of them, for our fun and friendship, for the long walks and talks Peg and I used to have. And we’ll never forget the time we alarmed the waitress at the Cheesecake Factory because we were moaning over our wickedly delicious cheesecake. We laughed so hard that salty tears ran down our face.
COVID-19 has taken so much from us this past year, but nothing tops the loss of friends and family. Still, it doesn’t have the power to steal our spirit. It’s a good reminder to take care of ourselves and loved ones and cherish each moment, treasuring the laughs and good times. Jeff would have wanted that.