Martin to be honored

Published 9:57 pm Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ask folks who have worked with Caroline Martin to describe her, and you’ll get a host of responses.

“Community spirited.” “Dynamic, energetic public servant.” “Tireless champion.” “Coalition builder.”

These and more were used to describe Martin, who is the 2012 First Citizen honoree of the Suffolk and North Suffolk Rotary clubs.

Martin

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Martin will be honored during an event April 19. According to some, the recognition is long overdue.

“I was just delighted to see her as First Citizen,” said local attorney Jack Eure, who has served on two boards with Martin. “I’ve thought of her name in that spot for years.”

Martin and her husband Brian moved to Suffolk in 1966 and have been heavily involved in the community ever since.

As former health system administrator with Riverside, much of Martin’s community influence goes to organizations that aim to improve the health of the community.

She currently serves as president of the board for both Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community and the Western Tidewater Free Clinic.

At Suffolk Partnership, Martin has never stopped working toward a healthier community, executive director Jaya Tiwari said.

“She is a tireless champion for the rights of the most vulnerable segments of our population and a passionate advocate for policies and programs that improve the health and wellbeing of our city and citizens,” Tiwari said.

Her mission at the free clinic is similar. Martin once stepped down from the board in the free clinic’s infancy to take over at the executive director position — a move that some regarded as the clinic’s salvation.

“It was the greatest thing for the community that anybody could have done,” said Eure, who served on the board with her.

Martin was a founding member of Edmarc Hospice for Children and also served with Physicians for Peace. She also serves on the board of the Virginia Association of Free Clinics.

But it’s not just health-related organizations that get her attention. Martin also is on the board of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, where she is the assistant treasurer and chair of the governance committee, and is vice president of Suffolk Sister Cities.

No matter where she’s serving, friends and colleagues say, Martin will make a difference.

“She is truly a gem,” said Ross Boone, 2007 First Citizen honoree who has served with Martin on the boards of the Suffolk Partnership, free clinic and arts center. “Her enthusiasm, dedication and stick-to-it-iveness all come out in each of those organizations.”

Martin has been instrumental in an effort to get a new magnet boarding school for science, technology and math subjects off the ground.

Called the STEAM Academy (STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering and applied math), the concept school would be a boarding school for high-school students from throughout the state who excel in those subjects. No site has been settled on, though organizers are looking closely at a former military base in Hampton.

Leaders of the project, including Martin, lobbied the General Assembly this winter for planning money to explore the idea further. But the project never would have gotten this far without Martin, said Judy Stewart.

“This would just be a concept paper on my desktop if it were not for Caroline,” Stewart said. “She is a coalition builder, and she has been absolutely amazing in introducing the concept to a wide spectrum of constituents, business, science, research and development, parents, community leaders, the health community and higher education (leaders).”

“She is exceptionally well-regarded in the community, not just in Hampton Roads but statewide,” Stewart continued. “That’s exactly what we needed. It could not have happened without her guidance and her wisdom and certainly her connections.”

The goal is to open the school in 2014, Stewart said.

Besides her community service, Martin still is a businesswoman — she and her husband own Gates Custom Milling Company in North Carolina.

Perhaps most important of all, some said, Martin is a friend.

“We just became good friends almost immediately,” Eure said of when he moved back home to Suffolk in the late ‘60s and met Martin through the Jaycees, where Brian Martin was involved. “I was a hometown boy, and I didn’t really know anybody. All my friends had moved away.”

Boone said he is honored to have Martin on his side in many of their community projects.

“If you want to go to battle, you want to take someone like her,” he said.

And Tiwari said Martin is the adopted “Bamma” to her 2-year-old daughter, “whose face lights up at the very sight of Caroline.”

As for Martin herself, she is overwhelmed by the recognition and quickly deflects praise to those who have served alongside her.

“Without a team and a community, nothing happens. I hope this is recognition for my family and for my friends and for those that I’ve enjoyed working with.”

The event to honor Martin will be held at 6 p.m. April 19 at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts. To purchase tickets, call 923-0003 or 238-3856.