Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
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Saturday, July 01, 2006

More Heroes, Please

It was about ten years ago. It was an overflowing county commission meeting filled to the brim woth artists, left-wing radicals, right-wing nutjobs and a few normal people sprinkled through. We were all there to talk, listen, scream, wail, gnash our teeth and beat our breasts over public funding for theatre in Charlotte. We were there because there had been a production of a play about some queens, and some people got pissed that the theatre producing the play got a few pennies of tax money for their operating budget, and those pissed off folks wanted to yank all the county arts funding to punish the pernicious peddlers of smut. You know, theatre people.

In the middle of all the rhetoric, all the accusations and all the hissy fits, a skinny guy in a wheelchair rolled up to a microphone and gave an impassioned plea for reason. He talked about the value of the arts in a society and in a life. I could tell that this guy was having a hard time making this happen, because his body was rebelling against him, but he wouldn't be beaten. He said his peace, he rolled away, and we lost that night's fight.

And he kept talking to people in boardrooms and private homes all over town, and a couple of years later four of the five council members who voted to repeal arts funding were defeated in the next election, and the private donations that came into the arts community in Charlotte doubled the money that was stripped from the budget.

And last year we opened a brand new beautiful Children's Theatre facility named after him, a thank you from a grateful arts community for his fighting on our behalf, when he had his own fight going on.

And today, he lost. Complications from Lou Gehrig's disease killed Joe Martin at age 65. And I sit here at my keyboard, crying a little for the passing of a man I never met face to face, but owe a debt to nonetheless. Betrayed by his body, he never stopped fighting.

Can we have a few more of these?


4:40 pm | Charlotte crusader Joe Martin dies


One of Charlotte's most well-known advocates passed away this morning.

Joseph B. Martin, a retired Bank of America executive, former Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member, and brother of former N.C. governor Jim Martin, died from respiratory problems caused by a pulmonary embolism, family members said. He was 65.

In 1994, Martin was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, as it is commonly known. The illness eventually left him without the ability to walk or talk. But it never lessened his drive for fighting for causes in which he believed. Even after his diagnosis, he worked tirelessly for ALS patients, better schools and race relations.

He introduced "Race Day," challenging Charlotteans to invite a person of a different race to lunch. He helped create the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Education Foundation. He and his brother raised more than $3 million to build the Carolinas Neuromuscular/ALS Center at Carolinas Medical Center.

He wrote two books, one about living with the illness, the other a novel about teenagers growing up in South Carolina in the 1950s.

The Public Library of Charlotte and the Children's Theater of Charlotte named their joint children's complex -- ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center -- after Martin and his wife.

Bank of America, in his honor, established the Joe Martin Scholarship Program, which offers financial assistance for college or vocational schools to dependents of associates.

"He was the most universally loved people I knew," said Hugh McColl Jr., former Bank of America CEO, who called Martin one of his most trusted advisers and the "conscience of the company."

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