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August 2014 • Mrs. Lorelle Martin: A Graduation Service

August 9, 2014

     Phrases such as “Words cannot begin to express” or “Preaching to the choir” really do apply to any praise of Mrs. Martin. Knowing that, I cannot thank Dr. Virginia Martin, her daughter, enough for this opportunity to “Preach to this choir” of fans who adore her wonderful mother, our teacher, honorary mother, grandmother, friend, and more. It is no problem finding wonderful things to say about her. We were in Louisiana this past weekend celebrating a family reunion and they are very familiar with Mrs. Martin and our relationship that they have shared for the past 47 years. I was talking with Jerry and my sister about our memories of times spent with Mrs. Martin. I said that following this special celebration I was really looking forward to seeing you people and talking further about our wonderful friend. Jerry said, Willis, if you try to tell them everything you have talked about even this weekend, the only thing you will hear as the last person leaves is “Please turn out the lights and lock the doors, it is midnight and I have to be at work early Thursday morning.”

     How many of us have memories of Mrs. Martin:

      • In a Mount Olive College classroom?

      • In a classroom before 1957 (Calypso High School, Mount Olive Elementary, etc.)?

      • First Baptist Church Sunday School class?

      • Serving on the Board of Deacons at First Baptist Church?

      • Read-to-Succeed at Carver Elementary School?

     I feel sure that each of you is saying, or at least thinking, “I would love to be doing this.” “I would love to be the one to tell everyone what a wonderful person Mrs. Lorelle Martin is and what she has done for me, my family, my children, and the influence she continues to have in all my relationships.” If it were possible for each of your thoughts to be flashed up on the screen or up on our ceiling, I feel sure that each would look at these with thoughts like “I wish I had said that since that is exactly what I was thinking.”

     When the person in Mrs. Martin’s hospital room said that the doctor’s diagnosis was “an enlarged heart,” I thought “That is not new information—we all new that Mrs. Martin’s heart was larger than any we had ever encountered.” That was neither fault nor deficiency—it was something that made life richer for all of us.

     That heart engulfed those persons most precious in her life: her husband, Robert; and her children, Virginia and Bob; her sister, Marguerite (aka “rite,”); and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Franck. She always had a most special place in that heart for her sister-in-law, Rachel; and Robert’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Martin.

However, that large heart of hers also spent so much time encompassing those of us from her Calypso High School days, her Mount Olive College days, her First Baptist Church days, her Read-to-Succeed days at Carver Elementary School, and especially those recent days while receiving visitors in that beautiful Harrell’s Hill Road home. Regardless as to where she was found, those beautiful, sparkling eyes and that captivating smile were always present.

     My first contact with her was on a cold, windy day in April 1967. Dr. Ray Carson, academic dean at MOC, met me at the airport in Goldsboro to take me to a job interview at Mount Olive College. He took me by the biology lab at the College and then to the Southern Belle Motel to check in for the stay that evening.      Mrs. Martin was in a meeting; I think it was a faculty meeting, so I did not meet her until that evening over dinner. I walked in to the Southern Belle Restaurant and this smiling, energetic 51-year-old woman rose from the first booth on my left. She hugged me and the job interview was over for me—I would have signed right on that table full of fish and French fries (if I remember correctly it was a Friday afternoon). My and my family’s lives have not been the same since. She was then, and remained so for as long as I have known her, the absolute best person for putting you at ease in her presence.

     The biology lab that afternoon was full of Atlantic Ocean specimen; buckets all over the lab desks—which was my introduction to Mrs. Martin’s philosophy of field trips—go and go often. She believed that first-hand experience was the most valuable way to study God’s world. She had taken a summer semester of classes at the Duke University Marine Lab and this influenced her classes the rest of her teaching career at MOC. Those lists, field-trip notes, and lab quizzes on all those marine plant and animal examples arose from that summer at Beaufort. That first invertebrate class with Selma Gray and Mac Wallace reviewed a lot of that Duke class for all of us. Mrs. Martin and I taught that class together.

     She was just at home with persons on the state and national levels of science education. We went to many seminars, conventions, and other functions of these organizations. It was amazing watching her easy and friendly introductions to and interactions with persons at all levels in these groups. Mrs. Martin served many years as a driving force within the Collegiate Academy of the North Carolina Academy of Science. She took students year after year to sessions where they presented papers to some of the more eminent scientists in our state. Throughout her years at MOC she was recognized as one of the most outstanding science educators in our state. She was so proud of her daughter, Dr. Virginia Martin, who continued this tradition with her service to Tri Beta (the National Biological Honor Society).

     The first national trip we took together was to St. Louis for biology education convention. That first night we went to eat with three nuns that we met at the afternoon session. We found out later that they had tickets to a baseball game between the hometown St. Louis Cardinals and some other team. The three nuns enjoyed Mrs. Martin and her wonderful sense of humor so much that they elected to eat and talk well into the time of that baseball game. I think that we kept up with each other for the next several years.

     Mrs. Martin was a classroom marvel—the best teacher I have known. This was contributed to and carried out because of: 1) That wonderful, beautiful voice, 2) Something unique for each class (lectures always well prepared), 3) Books, or series of books—including reports on these, 4) Magic tricks in her chemistry classes and labs, 5) Fresh materials for each lab, 6) Displays, 7) Her experience drawn from many resources, 8) Humor, and 9) Gatherings at her family’s beautiful home (ice cream parties, Henderson Science Club parties, Christmas parties, etc.).

     She was not only an expert at creating a learning environment for her students. She was excellent at translating to the public what went on in her classroom. There was a time when there was a certain amount of criticism of Mount Olive College coming from a small group of persons. Several of these appeared in Mrs. Martin’s office one afternoon. The spokesperson informed Mrs. Martin “We realize that you know much about biology, geology, chemistry, and other sciences; but what do you know about Jesus Christ?” Mrs. Martin calmly and immediately replied “I know him as my Lord and Savior.” The group gave a collective “Oh,” and quietly left her office.

     The Martin Lecture was begun, and funded, by one of Mrs. Martin’s former students. This student was exceptionally shy and really did not think that he could even complete her class, much less complete two years of a college-level course of study. Due to Mrs. Martin’s unique and highly successful teaching style, he not only completed that class successfully, he completed the two-year requirements as well as earning 4-year and PhD degrees. He retired recently from teaching biology within the University of Maryland system.

     Stories like this are too numerous for telling at this time. However, one other amazing example was that of a blind girl enrolling in Mrs. Martin’s biology class. The first difficulty overcome by Mrs. Martin was one of the genetics lessons of describing what chromosomes and genes were. Coming into the lab on the afternoon of that exercise, I saw Mrs. Martin and this student sitting at one of the lab desks long after the lab session was scheduled to be over. On that table were 24 pieces of clay in the shapes of human chromosomes. Placing each of these into that blind student’s hands while describing each of them was a lesson that during the next lab spilled over into a description involving the non-blind members of that class. This resulted in everyone understanding that genetics lesson far better than the “traditional” lesson would have accomplished.

     Field trips to the Atlantic Ocean and Cliffs of the Neuse were met with smiles and much happiness. While speed-walking to and from the sites to be visited, she handed out the outlines of what was supposed to be accomplished on these trips. This always left announcements of future field trips being met with less enthusiasm. Her ability to outwalk all of us never stopped.

     Dr. Thomas Morris funded programs including the Outstanding Teacher Award at MOC. Mrs. Martin was the only logical choice as recipient of the first one of these awards. As long as she was a faculty member it was understood that she was the most outstanding teacher, but there were also others qualified to actually be presented with the award. The recipients of that award always seemed to be pleased to finish that close to the example set by Mrs. Martin.

     The example set by her at her church was shown as she taught her Sunday School class, quietly became the first woman of the Diaconate to serve communion, and continued to show us and others that women can actually show the way to a relationship with God as well, or in many cases, much better than others. For a very long time I have felt that the face of God must include many of the expressions I have witnessed on the face of Lorelle Martin.

     This seems to be the ultimate Graduation exercise for Mrs. Lorelle Martin—the graduation music is most appropriate

     So, let me end as this Eulogy began:

     If anyone has any doubt that there are angels walking the face of the earth, they have not known Mrs. Lorelle Martin!

     Oh, and by the way, if you ever see me and we cannot find a conversation topic—please ask me about Lorelle Martin!

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