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Posted By Whitney & Murphy On September 28, 2018 @ 8:26 am In Obituary | 7 Comments

Marissa Theisen

Marissa Roche Theisen – mother, grandmother, business owner, author, professor, philanthropic leader – died last Saturday at the age of 66 after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. She was born in Boston in 1952 to two social workers: John Francis Roche and Elizabeth Barbara Roche. One of six children, she was raised to believe in people and work toward improving the community. Marissa spent her most formative years (6th -12th grade) on a bucolic farm in New Hampshire, where she engaged in endless games of make believe, hiked for miles, skied every winter, formed unbreakable bonds with her four sisters, learned to live without comforts like indoor toilets, attended a two-room school house, and later waited in frigid temperatures in a skirt (to satisfy the dress code) for the bus that carried her to a small regional high school. She excelled here, and the experience made her hearty.

Afterward, she attended the University of New Hampshire for her Bachelor’s degree and shortly thereafter, attained a Masters in Urban Planning from Harvard. After graduate school, her passion for environmental issues carried her to Washington D.C., where she worked for The Conservation Foundation. Her job there focused on connecting and empowering citizens through dialogue and education and working to improve issues like water quality, sewage treatment, and national forest conservation. But her time in D.C. was short-lived because there she met Chuck Theisen, whom she followed to Phoenix where they were married. Although this marriage only lasted four years, it brought her two beautiful children who became the light of her life. It also brought her to a state that she fell in love with and Arizona became her forever home.

Marissa’s professional experiences in Phoenix were vast and varied, but followed a common theme: service. After attaining an MBA from Arizona State University, she and Rich Fisher started Win Win Creations, a management consulting firm specializing in conflict disappearance. Together, they facilitated partnering workshops for a range of clients, including the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US Navy, the Marines, and the Arizona Department of Transportation. This work also led her and Rich to write a book in 1997 called George and the Jeannie: An Adventure in Conflict Disappearance. Afterwards, she briefly stepped in as Executive Director of the YWCA of Maricopa County and then became the President and CEO of the Arizona Grantmakers forum in 1999, leading that organization for 18 years. Within this role, she helped spearhead the creation of Arizona Gives Day. Marissa also taught classes at ASU’s Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation. And she volunteered on numerous boards and committees, including the YWCA, the Junior League of Phoenix, Child Crisis Arizona, Social Venture Partners, and the Self-Employment Loan Fund.

Outside of work and service, Marissa led a rich life. She was an avid sports fan, often found gripping the sides of her chair and shouting at the television during a Phoenix Suns or Arizona Cardinals game or the Masters Tournament. She was a voracious reader and convener of book clubs, from dense theoretical work to light fiction. Her home served as a regular meeting space for these clubs for years, right up until her final weeks. She was also a gardener, a hiker, a dog-lover, a singer, a politically engaged citizen, and an amateur painter and woodworker. Her friends and colleagues remember her as “one of a kind” and “one of the most accepting, self-effacing, loving and acknowledging people.” If you don’t know her name, it is not because she wasn’t worthy of public recognition, but because she never sought it out; she lived humbly. A deeply caring friend to many, an ever-loving and doting mother and grandmother, a devoted sister, Marissa lived a life worth remembering.

She was no stranger to tragedy, having lost her brother and father in her early thirties, but nor was she one to sit around feeling sorry for herself. She just got up and began doing. And even when faced with one of the worst cancers imaginable, and even as her body began to fall apart around her, she persevered, remaining engaged with the community, teaching her class at ASU, walking her dog miles each day, and spending time with her little granddaughters every week. She held on, because in her own words, “Even with all of its flaws, this world is so interesting and beautiful.” She loved her life until the end. And though she was taken away from us too soon, her legacy will endure.

She is survived by her son, Nicholas Theisen, daughter, Victoria Theisen-Homer, granddaughters, Annalie and Sofia Homer, and four sisters, Patricia Bicchieri, Judy Davidson, Diane Roche, and Sheila Ouellette. Her family will be hosting a Celebration of Life Ceremony for her on October 8th, please email rememberingmarissa@gmail.com for details if you would like to attend. In lieu of flowers, the family asks you make contributions to the Marissa Theisen Family Fund at the Arizona Community Foundation, which can be found at https://www.azfoundation.org/MarissaTheisen
Condolences may be expressed at www.whitneymurphyfuneralhome.com

Condolences for the family of “THEISEN, MARISSA ROCHE”

Condolence from Laura Atwell on September 30th, 2018 10:04 am

I’m so sorry to hear of the passing of this “force of nature.” Now that I read her obituary, I know more about why she was so strong and determined in everything she did. I worked with her for many years when she led the AZ Grantmakers Forum, and she was well respected for her hard work and vision for the organization. She will be a great loss to her family and the community. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Condolence from Tom Barton on October 1st, 2018 11:50 am

Thank you Marissa for all that you have done to make this world a better place. You have been a devoted friend to me since I met you fifty one years ago. The words you shared were characteristically poetic, calm, at peace, right up until our conversation just four days before your passing.
I was so privileged to have the opportunity to be your friend. You will continue to guide me until the time when we meet again.

Condolence from George J Swaidan on October 1st, 2018 7:46 pm

Marissa, dear Friend, you are a light in this world. I am blessed to have met you some years ago (in 2010, I believe, but your memory was better than mine, I’m sure). Your caring ethos played out in the many life endeavors you were engaged in. Reading your obituary, I learned about your early life on a farm and your attending a two-room country school house…perhaps an “Anne of Green Gables” contemporary philosopher , you are a dear soul. Till we meet again on the other side, your dear friend…George

To Marissa’s family and friends, I am so sorry for your loss. Many blessings to you all.

Condolence from . Martha Andrews Russell on October 2nd, 2018 10:29 am

I am so sorry to hear of Rissy ‘s passing. She was always one of my absolute favorite people in junior high school and high school.

Condolence from Linda L. Tanner on October 2nd, 2018 1:17 pm

I am so saddened to hear about Rissy’s passing. I was her physical education teacher and basketball coach almost 50 years ago. She was a outstanding student, loved sports, gave her all in a game, and was a student that was well liked by her teachers, fellow students and teammates. Rissy was always upbeat and positive. I’m sorry we lost touch over the years. Her obituary is impressive but not surprising. I always knew she would be a kind, loving, activist, and go-getter. I send my deepest sympathies to your family. We have all lost a special person. May she rest in peace.

Condolence from Scott Turner on October 8th, 2018 4:24 pm

I got to know Marissa better over the past several years, especially since she became a SVP Partner. Marissa was always interested in and thoughtful about so many things. She was also encouraging and helpful to me, as I worked increasingly in the nonprofit sector. She was a wonderful person, who will remain an inspiration to me and many others.
Blessings, Scott (Turner) with Leslie (Turner)

Condolence from Loraine Gilbreath on October 11th, 2018 1:53 pm

It was with great sorrow and surprise that I read of Marissa’s passing. I only knew her professionally originally when I worked for the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, the original “home” of the Arizona Grantmakers Forum, where she shared space and the telephone system. I would cross paths with her over the years at other nonprofit and philanthropic events, conferences, etc. and always found her to be friendly, smart, knowledgeable, interesting, and passionate about her work. She was always immaculately dressed and “put-together” in her signature suits and dresses, slim and fit. I am sorry for your loss but you should be proud of her many personal and professional accomplishments and for what she contributed to the Phoenix community. Please accept my sincere condolences.

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