LOUISVILLE – June 29, 2005 – A
Presbyterian elder who pioneered new models for social justice work and
mentored countless young pastors and activists died June 24 in Napa, CA.
Rodney T. Martin, 84, who was the executive director of
the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) for 18
years, died following a long illness. His family was at his bedside.
A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday,
July 30, at the First Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA.
On the national stage, Martin directed PHEWA from 1972
to1990, when he also served as associate for organizational relations for
the Social Justice and Peacemaking Unit of the General Assembly.
Under Martin’s leadership, PHEWA began using networks to
link grassroots Presbyterians engaged in issue-based ministries with each
other and with the wider church. He developed a consultation process that
helped presbyteries, community centers and homes for the aging do long-range
planning, redirect ministries to meet changing needs and broker funds for
He had an intuitive gift for networking.
"The model of peer consultation developed by Rod was
flexible and forward-thinking – the very model that will be needed by the
church in a time when national staff can no longer be direct service
providers," said the Rev. Bob Brashear, pastor of West Park Presbyterian
Church in New York City and the current president of the PHEWA Board of
Brashear said Martin pushed for joint ministry between the
northern and southern streams of the church before they merged to form the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
"Rod’s most important tool was the telephone," he said.
"The greatest part of every day – and most nights, by my direct observation
of him while living with his family for two years – was spent in reaching
out to people across the country, checking in to see how they were doing,
helping them to feel their work, and more so, their person, was
appreciated and valued."
"He was a human voice for an institutional church,
connecting across the miles in a most personal and pastoral way," Brashear
said. "The gifts Rod brought to his ministry are the very ones so needed in
"His work will carry on … in PHEWA, but more so in the
lives of those whose ministries he nurtured and supported, in the lives of
those he loved."
Martin was born in Cass County, IN, on April 10, 1921, the
third son of Earl and Josie Martin. He attended Washington Township High
School, Morton Junior College in Berwyn, IL, and the United States Merchant
Marine Academy at Kingspoint, NY, where he earned a bachelor of science
degree in engineering. He served as an officer in the Merchant Marine from
1941-45, during World War II.
It was during a shore leave in Glasgow, Scotland, that he
met his wife, the former Jessie Cunningham. They were married 40 years when
she died in 1987.
Martin joined the church when he was nine years old. In
response to his father’s worry that he was too young, the pastor reportedly
said, "Do not thwart the Spirit." He was a fifth-generation elder, serving
in numerous churches, presbyteries and synods.
Prior to directing PHEWA, Martin was executive director of
the East Long Beach Neighborhood Center/Centro de la Raza in Los Ranchos
Presbytery. It was there that Martin honed his skills as an organizer, grant
writer, mentor and facilitator among the disadvantaged.
"Rod was the key to the formation of so many of us across
the church," said the Rev. Laura Jervis of the West Side Federation for
Senior and Supportive Housing. "He made it possible for many of us to do
things on both the presbytery and national levels that we never would have
dreamed of attempting. His confidence in us and his unwavering support made
"Age was never an impediment. He always took young people
seriously – he listened, learned from them and launched them. His friendship
was a lifelong commitment. He and his beloved wife, Jessie, were the
godparents to three generations of church leaders within our denomination."
PHEWA Board meetings and biennial conferences included
visits to struggling communities and working for civil or labor rights. In
1987, the organization gave Martin its highest honor, the John Park Lee
Award for outstanding work in the field of health and welfare. In 2000, the
Witherspoon Society recognized Martin with the Andrew Murray Award, given to
a person whose life and work exemplified the values of the organization.
In retirement, Martin moved to Pismo Beach, CA, where his
daughter, the Rev. Shona Martin Kilsgaard, pastored the Community
Presbyterian Church. He was president of the Witherspoon Society and served
on a number of committees in Santa Barbara Presbytery, as well as the
session of the Community Church. He edited the church’s newsletter,
supported the local food bank and worked in a number of community
In 2003, he moved to Sonoma, CA, near two of his
daughters, Moire Martin, a sign language interpreter, and Fiona Martin, who
operates a chocolate businesses in Mill Valley and Berkeley, CA. He remained
an avid reader, bridge player and gourmet cook and prided himself, according
to his daughters, on finishing the New York Timescrossword puzzle by
noon on Sunday and whipping up a "mean" apple pie.
He is survived by his three daughters; two
daughters-in-law, Senecarol and Beth; his brother, Donald C. Martin; and two
grandchildren, Emma and Zachary Westrasmus of New Hampshire.
"I treasured him as a friend," said the Rev. David
Cockcroft, the pastor emeritus of Riverdale Presbyterian Church in the
Bronx, N.Y., and a longtime colleague in PHEWA. "There was a constant stream
of people … through his office, at his house on the Vineyard in the summer …
And he kept the networks going. He’d say to me (while he was in
California),‘Did you know such-and-such is happening in New York?’ And I’d
say, ‘No, I didn’t know.’
"In terms of social justice ministries, his strength was
the ability to develop networks."
Memorial gifts may made in Martin’s name to the Community
Presbyterian Church of Pismo Beach, 990 Dolliver, Pismo Beach, CA, 93449,
and That All May Freely Serve, The Downtown Presbyterian Church, 121
Fitzhugh St., Rochester, NY 14614.
Rod’s daughter, the
Rev. Shona Martin Kilsgaard, has sent this note to friends in the PHEWA
06/23/05 6:08 PM
Dear Friends and loved ones: