The Measure of Martin
Nancy Martin, 1938 – 2010
Last year, at the opening of the CAMP Community Center, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after Murray Archibald read his inspiring poem with the refrain “The Heart of the Community.” It was a glorious day at the beach and everyone broke for the reception. Not Nancy. She turned to me and said, “I don’t think our piano will fit on that stage!” Classic Nancy. At the work she loved 24/7.
Nancy—who put the “unity” in community, had intentionally booked her beloved Delmarva Piano Festival as one of the first official events in the CAMP Rehoboth Community Center that following month. But there she stood wondering if she’d asked the obvious question “will the piano fit?” Nancy was the most literate and zany combination—mostly Eleanor Roosevelt, with a tiny part Lucille Ball. So, I asked Steve Elkins to fetch a tape measure, and as she and Bill Sargent made certain of the measurement, Tony Burns took one of his gazillion photos.
None are as treasured as this one.
You can measure a stage. But you can’t measure Nancy Martin’s life. People have tried to do so at two incredibly touching memorials held in the communities she loved—Capitol Hill and Rehoboth Beach. But it’s beyond measure. So, I will try here, which is appropriate only because most columns I’ve written were sent to Nancy first. And the column wasn’t over until the petite lady laughed.
She died, after a valiant five-year battle with cancer, in the dual blizzard of 2010. The buzz was all about record-shattering 59” of snow. All I could think of was the woman who stood about 60” tall shattering the two communities she loved. Both communities came to a complete halt—and it had nothing to do with salt trucks. We had lost the love of so many lives.
I personally fell in love with Nancy Martin years ago, on the night of Patrick Gossett’s election as Rehoboth Beach Commissioner. She had been the campaign’s field general, and I’d known her as the dynamic powerhouse with her email on steroids. During the toasts to Patrick, I saw a twinkle in her eye and a unique character unlike I’d ever met. That very evening, we began a full-on “Will and Grace” love affair, right in front of her husband, Guy. He could never stop her from collecting friends.
A few months later, my phone rang one Saturday and it was Nancy calling to ask if I’d be her guest at a seminar on bi-partisanship at which Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming) would be speaking. I told her that I’d go only because the senator had shown up for the candle light vigil the night Matthew Shepard died. In the height of the Bush 43 years, the seminar was quite interesting—and as the senator came down off the dais, he greeted Nancy with a big hug and kiss. She’d never mentioned that he and his wife were friends. She said, “Alan, I want you to meet my good friend Brent Mundt. Brent, tell Alan why you came with me today!” So I told him and we chatted for a good 10 minutes about his serving on a gay/straight commission with former President Ford.
Six months later, she phoned about her season-closing lobster fest, to ask if I would mind her seating me with her special guest from New York, Cathie Black, head of Hearst Magazines. She started to explain who Cathie was and I interrupted and said I’d met Cathie briefly years ago when I was in management at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Cathie was president of the National Newspaper Association and back then, we greeted all of our VIP guests personally to escort them to their suite. Nancy said, “Oh, so you know her!” And I replied, “Yes, sort of like Morgan Freeman knew Miss Daisy.” But I happily accepted Nancy’s kind offer to seat me with Ms. Black. Because if you knew Nancy, you brought your “A” game. And no matter how intimidating the company might be, you were OK. You had the Martin Seal of Approval.
Only at her memorial did I learn that long ago, while living in Alaska, she’d adopted a gay cross-dressing Eskimo teenager to help him find comfort and support. And here I thought I was the only one she gave drag fashion advice to!
Visiting the Martin’s beach house, you were always greeted by Andi Jane, the sweetest dog in the world. I often joked that Andi would throw her hip out because she was wagging that tail so joyously. As that screen door opened and the effervescent Nancy greeted you, you realized she was as happy as Andi Jane was to see a friend.
I often wish my long deceased parents could return for a day and I’d walk them through the neighborhood that we call home in Rehoboth. While my childhood memories of a comfortable suburban life in the 60s are mostly pleasant, it was a very oppressive time to be gay. (Ward and June would not like Wally or the Beav coming out of anything but a fever.) It’s as though we built that neighborhood back and inhabited it with all the pleasures of home, with the crucial bonus that gay and straight people have come together and share incredibly tight bonds of friendship. Nancy brought that spirit to our neighborhood with her common sense decency and endless supply of love—both delivered with a twinkle in her eye, and infectious enthusiasm.
It has been said that the birth and death years on any headstone don’t matter. It’s only what’s been put on that dash. So in Nancy’s case, 1938 doesn’t matter. Nor does 2010. No one I’ve ever known crammed a dash like Nancy Martin. So I bid a heartwarming/heartbreaking farewell to my friend Nancy, a woman who helped cross dress an Eskimo, and then decades later took this old queen by the hand and introduced him to magazine publishers and United States Senators—always proud to be our friend, and always urging us to be the best that we can be.
Inspired by Nancy, we all have a dash to fill. Because of her, it can’t ever be measured.
Brent Mundt makes a living in Washington, D.C. and a life in Rehoboth Beach.