‘Things like this don’t happen to people like me’: Milesburg woman meets celebrity chef

bmilazzo@centredaily.comJuly 17, 2014 

— Rose Marshall handed a piece of paper to celebrity chef Robert Irvine and asked him to cross a goal off her bucket list.

She has kept the bucket list in her pocket since March 2010.

On Thursday, Marshall was able to fulfill the seventh bullet on her list of 15 life-ending goals, the 11th overall: to meet Irvine, a role model of hers.

“I cooked my whole life; it was a passion, and when I got sick, I couldn’t do that and, meeting him is like something I never imagined would happen,” Marshall, 48, said. “Things like this don’t happen to people like me.”

The Milesburg resident was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma five years ago and quit treatment three years ago.

Tonya Marshall, 48, said that life is no longer certain for her wife, and to meet Irvine was “a dream come true.”

“For me, there are no words to describe what it means to be able to fulfill one of her dreams,” Tonya Marshall said. “She’s had a lot of bad days and we don’t know from day to day when the end is coming, but the past 24 to 48 hours have been a blessing. She’s ecstatic and, in many ways, like her old self again.”

Rose Marshall called it the best day of her life.

Irvine was in Bellefonte on Wednesday and Thursday to film the Food Network’s “ Restaurant: Impossible” at Mamma Lucrezia’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant, 136 S. Allegheny St.

With help from Doreen Perks, founder of the Bob Perks Cancer Assistance Fund, and television producers, Rose Marshall was able to meet Irvine, get a backstage look into production and reserve a table for the grand reopening of Mamma Lucrezia’s.

The Bob Perks Fund provides financial assistance to individuals undergoing cancer treatment who temporarily cannot make ends meet.

But the Marshalls’ request to Perks wasn’t a financial one.

“They just came to us with a strange request,” Perks said. “They didn’t ask for money or other finical help. … She just wanted to see if there was any way she could get close enough to the set to see Robert Irvine. … I found it very hard not to try to do whatever I could to help this woman get her wish.”

For Irvine, giving back to more than just the restaurant he works with is the most rewarding part of his job.

“To have this lady whose dying wish is to meet me is an honor. If I can have a chance to make an impact on somebody’s life, that’s what I can give,” Irvine said. “We’re all given a gift. … Mine is being able to fix things. People are pretty special — especially you have this lady who’s suffering with stage-four cancer. To see people go through that, it’s tough.”

Rose Marshall, barely able to hold back her tears, said that what inspires her most about Irvine is his ability and willingness to help change things for the better, even if that gives him a tough exterior.

“When you watch the program, he reminds me of you and me, and he cares not just about the physical changes, but changing people’s lives,” Rose Marshall said. “It’s positive. To me, he’s down to earth and selfless.”

And she rarely misses a television appearance by Irvine on “Restaurant: Impossible” or “ Dinner: Impossible,” whether he’s a judge, a competitor in a cook-off or a consultant with other celebrity chefs.

She even watched his wedding.

“He’s been a real inspiration to her,” Tonya Marshall said. “I say she’s ‘doing a Robert’ when she whips up an incredible meal out of the nothing we had in our refrigerator.”

Rose Marshall grew up on a farm in Blue Marsh, near Reading, learning to cook with all fresh foods, making her family the guinea pigs for her spur-of-the-moment recipes.

She started out working in restaurants as a dishwasher and worked her way up to the salad bar and preparing food, working the grill line and in management positions for more than 30 years. Before her diagnosis, she was a manager at TA Milesburg, a Travel Centers of America, in the food service department.

Now, Rose Marshall said, she still needs to check four more items off her bucket list — going to the beach, driving a Hummer, going to the Reading Zoo with her granddaughters and getting a tattoo. She completed her first two goals — spending more time with family and getting married to her partner of 18 years last year.

“These people have no idea what they’ve done,” she said. “There are some beautiful people in this county and I wish I could say thank you. They’ve done a really beautiful thing and they don’t realize what they’ve done.”

Tonya Marshall said she hopes to pay it forward by eventually creating an organization similar to Make-A-Wish, but for adults “in honor of Rose’s legacy.”

“Maybe this is what I do, maybe it’s my calling and my goal after Rose is gone,” Tonya Marshall said.

Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.

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