Former North Country Congressman David O'Brien Martin, who died Tuesday at the age of 68, left a big mark on this region and its people in his 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"It broke my heart," Tupper Lake resident Jim Ellis, former chairman of the Franklin County Republican Committee, said of Martin's passing.
"The North Country has lost a friend today with the passing of David O'Brien Martin," U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, a Plattsburgh Democrat who now represents mostly the same district Martin did, said in a prepared statement. "Mr. Martin served his country and his community with honor and distinction. He will be missed, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family this holiday season."
Rep. David Martin, left, poses with now-retired state Supreme Court Justice Jan Plumadore and Plumadore's daughter Margot, both of Saranac Lake, in 1987 in front of the nation’s Capitol.
Matt Doheny, a Republican businessman from Watertown who ran unsuccessfully against Owens this year and in 2010, said he and Martin formed a close friendship over the last four years.
"It's really a sad day for the North Country," Doheny said. "Dave is a remarkable man, and I will miss him very much."
Martin died at his home in Hedgesville, W.Va.
A Republican, he represented the North Country in Congress for six consecutive terms, a highlight of which was helping persuade the Army to station the reactivated 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum near Watertown. He was first elected in 1980, replacing Robert McEwen, who had stepped down from his position to serve on President Ronald Reagan's International Joint Commission.
Before Martin's time in Congress, he spent three years on the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators and then ran for state Assembly in 1976, serving in that chamber from 1977 to 1980.
Martin was born in Canton on April 26, 1944. He attended public schools in Colton and Canton, and graduated from Hugh C. Williams High School in Canton in 1962, according to Congress' Biographical Directory. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame in 1966 before joining the U.S. Marine Corps.
Martin fought in the Vietnam War and rose to the rank of captain before returning to New York to pursue his law degree at Albany Law School, which he earned in 1973.
"Our paths crossed many times over the years," Jan Plumadore, a retired state Supreme Court justice from Saranac Lake, said during an interview at the Enterprise offices Wednesday afternoon.
"I first met him, I believe, when I was a freshman at St. Lawrence (University)," Plumadore said. "My first two years at St. Lawrence were his last two years of high school. He was a pretty famous athlete in the area; Dave was a quarterback of the football team and a very good basketball player."
Plumadore said he also got to know Martin through his father, Edson Martin Sr., who ran a beverage distribution business in Canton.
Plumadore, who served in the Army, fought in Vietnam at the same time as Dave Martin.
"Through recounting stories and timelines, it turns out that he flew second seat in F-4s out of Chu Lai for the Marines, and he bombed around my Special Forces A Camp while I was there," Plumadore said. "He was close air support for me while we were in Vietnam."
Plumadore and Martin's paths would cross again in 1973, when they ran for seats on their respective county legislative boards: Plumadore in Franklin County and Martin in St. Lawrence County. They both won.
"So we again became colleagues," Plumadore. "We would talk about items of mutual interest in the two counties. And later on, I became the county chairman, the Republican chairman, in Franklin (County). And it was about that time he decided to run for the Assembly, and his Assembly seat extended into Franklin County, so I was able to be active in his campaign the first time."
Plumadore would eventually leave politics to pursue his judicial career. In 1980, right after the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, McEwen announced his retirement.
"It was around March of that year," Plumadore recalled. "Dave called me, and he asked me if I was interested in running for Congress. And I said, 'Well, jeez, Dave, I'm really not, because I'm now kind of embarked on a judicial career, and I'm taking a little different turn here. But would you be?' And he said, 'Well, that was kind of the purpose of my asking.' He said, 'If you were going to run, if you were interested, I would defer to you.' And he said he was somewhat relieved to learn that I was not."
Plumadore called Martin a "superb congressman." He said he was sharp and thought well on his feet.
Plumadore said he visited Washington, D.C., with his then-11-year-old daughter, Margot, in 1987. While there, they connected with Martin, who gave them a personal tour of the Capitol.
Martin is widely credited for convincing the Army to station its reactivated 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in Watertown. In a 1988 endorsement, the Enterprise's editorial board wrote that "Fort Drum has fueled a boom in St. Lawrence and Jefferson Counties" because of Martin's efforts.
The Enterprise also praised Martin for his work to curb acid rain in northern New York.
"Essentially a loyal Reagan Republican, David Martin's environmental record has been much better than his party's," the editorial reads.
Saranac Lake village Mayor Clyde Rabideau was mayor of the city of Plattsburgh when Martin served in Congress.
"He was our congressman during the first (Base Realignment and Closure procedure that the Plattsburgh Air Force Base) went through unscathed, and then he was a consultant for (Rep.) John McHugh the next time around, when we got whacked," Rabideau explained. The Plattsburgh base was closed in 1995.
"He was always an honorable gentleman," Rabideau added. "I never heard him say a bad word about anybody. He worked extremely hard. He kept that Marine Corps bearing. He was an upright guy, very patriotic and a true gentleman. That whole succession of the four last congressmen - Bob McEwen to Dave Martin to John McHugh to now Bill Owens - all fit the same moderate and gentlemanly mold.
"Dave was a stand-up guy."
Ellis said he and Plumadore saw Martin's potential early on when he was practicing as a lawyer in St. Lawrence County.
"I really don't know how to explain it except that I just loved the guy," Ellis said. "His greatest impact on the district was the fact that he was Dave Martin. He always had this keen eye about what he thought would be good for those who lived here. He was a North Country boy first and foremost, in the sense that Fort Drum was, for him, an economic bonanza, something that we couldn't turn our back on."
Martin decided not to seek re-election to a seventh term in 1992 because "he was frustrated by the inability of the House of Representatives to achieve consensus and take action on important issues," according to a Sept. 16, 1992, Enterprise article. Ellis said if Martin had decided to pursue another term in 1993, he likely would have been appointed chairman of the House Armed Services Committee in 1994.
Martin was in hospice care when he died. R.B. Lawrence, director of Island View Funeral Services in Morristown, told the Watertown Daily Times that Martin is tentatively scheduled to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.