Requiescat in Pace

Greatness begets greatness.

Likely George M. Martin ’42, HON ’88 would not have chosen such a grandiose characterization of his leadership style but that is indeed the consensus among the men and women who were his colleagues, during the storied Martin administrative tenure at Canisius College.

The best teachers, coaches and mentors, the best bosses and team leaders, inspire by example. George Martin was all of those and did that, in an unassuming way that presumed expectations would be met.

“My work for and with George Martin was a continuing education,” says Director of Principal Gifts J. Patrick Greenwald, who Martin hired in January 1977. “I learned something new from him almost every day.”

“He was always pleasant and friendly,” says Alice Steltermann, who served more than two decades as secretary to Martin, when he was executive vice president for administrative affairs (the first non-Jesuit to hold a vice presidency at Canisius) and then special counsel to the college president. “Because of his nature, people did not want to disappoint him.”

Mary Lu Littlefield, now retired, was longtime director of publications at Canisius and a 1975 hire by Martin. “He was a positive person and a go-getter,” she recalls. “George Martin believed in his staff and empowered them to do their best. That trust was well-rewarded by a vigorous and successful advancement staff.”

The current president of Canisius College, John J. Hurley ’78, echoes the recurring themes of trust and high expectations that George Martin espoused. From his student days, Hurley enjoyed many years of close working relationships with Martin across a quilt of connections that defined the latter’s world: from higher education to the state parks system to the political sphere.

“He had a loose management style,” Hurley says of his mentor and friend. “People were expected to do their jobs and to keep each other informed about important events but he was so busy himself, he wasn’t around micromanaging. Still, I recall getting plenty of feedback and this was a great experience.” Hurley referred to Martin as “an idea machine,” whose success strategy--if such a word can even be used for someone who just seemed to be doing what came naturally--was based on prodigious preparation. “George Martin could be a formidable adversary but he generally out-organized people and prevailed in that way.”

If you were a friend of George Martin, you had a staunch ally in your corner and many Canisius colleagues came to see him in just that light. Joseph F. Bieron ‘59, PhD, emeritus professor of chemistry who also served eight years as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says he quickly learned that Martin “was the most influential advisor” to then college president, the late Rev. James M. Demske, SJ. “He was the prime mover at the college when we initiated the Western New York Heritage Institute by convincing Jim Demske that we needed $10,000 as seed money.”

As President Hurley noted in the eulogy he delivered at the college’s memorial service for George Martin on December 21, 2013, two weeks after his death at 92, his was a life “all about service--to his family, to his Church which he loved, to his country [Martin was a decorated World War II veteran], to his schools, St. Joe’s and Canisius College, to the Christian Brothers and the Society of Jesus, and to the wide network of friends and friends-of-friends who called upon George for favors over the years.”

“George took that old expression about ‘six degrees of separation’ and narrowed it down to two or three, at most,” adds Greenwald. “If he didn’t know you personally, he was likely to know a member of your extended family. He was a master at making the connection and filing it away in his personal data base for future reference.”

Perhaps one of Martin’s greatest gifts was sharing the joy of helping others, as colleagues, who were “volunteered” for duty outside their roles at Canisius, discovered.

“If you worked for George Martin, you were always involved in many ‘extra-curricular’ experiences,” notes Mary Lu Littlefield. “In my case that involved doing design work for the Diocese of Buffalo (George was president of the Lay Advisory Council), as well as the Niagara State Parks (where he served as commissioner). If anyone would ask George if he could spare a staff member for a small project, his response would always be that he or she ‘would love to do it!’”

Once again leading by example, however inadvertent, it is clear that George Martin never asked anyone to do anything he was not already doing himself; that is, giving his all to whatever project was underway. “We often wondered if he ever slept,” laughs Greenwald.

“I never heard him say a bad word about anyone and never heard anyone say a bad word about him,” adds Alice Steltermann. Joe Bieron remembers Martin as a “unique character, a truly exceptional person.” And John Hurley makes note of his “enduring relevance,” a particularly apt tribute to a man who never grew stale even as he grew old.

A prescient commentator in the Azuwur of 1942, George Martin’s senior year of college, called him an “organizer deluxe and persuader extraordinary. Give him a worthy purpose and watch him work.” So he did, over the next seven decades, in many realms. Canisius College is just one beneficiary of his great legacy.

Maria Scrivani ’76 worked as assistant director of public information and later co-director of public information under George Martin.  She is currently a freelance writer and the author of several books on local history.