Selma loses beloved friend, advocate Jean T. Martin

Published 9:03 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Selma lost one of its greatest historians and biggest cheerleaders, Monday when Selma native Jean T. Martin, 89, died.

Members of the community mourned the loss of one of Selma’s greatest treasures and shared their condolences Tuesday as they reflected on the impact Martin had, not only in their own lives, but on the things she did for the people and the city of Selma.

martin_forweb“Jean was certainly an icon by herself, no doubt about it,” Selma Mayor George Evans said. “She made a big, great contribution to Selma. She’s been a servant pretty much all her life, as far as working with the public. She’ll be missed.”

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Martin served on the Selma City Council, representing Ward 3 from 1996-2008 and worked tirelessly to make Selma a great place to live and work. Among many other civic duties, Martin also worked with The Selma Times-Journal for more than 30 years, most recently serving as Life & Style editor emeritus.

“Mrs. Jean was just a tremendous, great Selmian,” Becky Nichols, director of the Selma-Dallas County Public Library said. “She loved the library and she also used the library. She was a great reader and for several years volunteered here on Saturday morning, helping people find books because she herself had known the good stories.”

Nichols said Martin was an energetic, enthusiastic believer in Selma and in the work of this town.

Nancy Bennett, president of the Selma-Dallas County Historic Preservation Society Inc., agreed.

“She was a tireless worker for historic preservation. She always touted Selma in every place that she could and she not only spoke of it, she wrote of it and her insight and her words will be sorely missed,” Bennett said. “Jean had a finger in a lot of pies, and she worked diligently for those pies too. She worked — she didn’t just talk it, she walked it.”

Bennett said Martin had dedicated much of her time and talents to Selma’s Historic Pilgrimage, Kenan’s Mill Festival and Market Day, and she was also fundamental in the start of the Tale Tellin’ Festival. Martin truly put her touch on Selma with everything she did, Elise Blackwell president of the Old Depot Museum Board of Directors said.

“I think her touching Selma, her involvement, of course she was born and bred in Selma, but what she’s done for Selma will last long after she’s gone. She loved Selma and put her touch on everything that she did for Selma,” Blackwell said, including Martin’s work for The Selma Times-Journal. Blackwell noted that her writing was “extraordinary.”

“Jean, she’s a writer. I always wanted her to publish a little booklet of her articles, because they are, without a doubt, some of the most beautiful writing. They’re almost lyrical in their content,” Blackwell said. “Jean was the kind of person that I could try to tell her something and she’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I know how to say it,’ and say it so much better than I could.”

Rita Franklin, a longtime friend and former city of Selma Council member agreed, saying that her work at the Times-Journal was outstanding.

“When all the young ladies and men came in as interns there, she was right there with them, helping them. She set a lot of careers,” Franklin said. “She just had a way with words, and putting them on paper that was just like words from heaven sometimes.”

Franklin recalled growing up on Pettus Street, just across the street from Martin.

“I’ve known Jean just about all my life,” she said. “I never remember not knowing Jean. Jean was just like a part of my family.”

Franklin said when they were on the council together she and Martin would take road trips for out of town meetings, and recalled several times after council meetings they would “Go to the marina and get a hamburger. And sometimes we went to Major Grumbles, and of course we’d be tired and didn’t eat anything that was on the menu. We had scrambled eggs, toast and bacon,” she said.

Franklin said although she moved away from Selma she and Martin would talk on the phone every Sunday and Wednesday night after church.

“We’ve been doing that for a long, long time. I sure am going to miss those phone calls,” Franklin said. “We had nice long chats, some of them 30 minutes long. So many sweet memories.”

Sweet memories are a sentiment many in Selma can share, when thinking of Martin.

“She enjoyed working on that city council, giving of herself and working for others,” Nancy Sewell, who served on the Selma City Council with Martin said. “She was a dear, trusted, loyal friend and one that I considered to be family. As a matter of fact my children referred to her as ‘T Jean.’”

Nancy’s daughter, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, agreed saying, “I affectionately called her ‘T Jean’ and I will miss her wise counsel and advice dearly. She was an amazing mentor and role model to me, and I credit my love of community to her extraordinary example.”

Services will be held Thursday, March 14 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Selma. There will be a visitation at 1 p.m. in Parrish Hall, and the memorial service will follow at 2 p.m.