Former Rocky River Mayor Earl Martin passed away Mar. 28 at age 88. He will be remembered for decades of dedicated service to his beloved hometown. I will remember him for another reason. Earl was my neighbor.
When the brick and frame house on Lake Road across the street from mine sold in 1990, I had mixed emotions when I learned the longtime mayor was my new neighbor. I'd met him several times in an official capacity, but wondered if I'd ever have a heart-to-heart or hearty laugh with him.
He was friendly enough, smiling and waving as he headed east on Lake Road most mornings, heading to City Hall on weekdays and nearby DIY stores on weekends. I'd see him sawing away in his driveway or garage. He was a "Mister Fix-It," as well as a master craftsman.
Time dispelled any doubts I had. Heartfelt chats came easily. And laugh? Did we ever.
Earl and his wife, Beth, were part of the fabric of a close-knit neighborhood that shrugged off the potential barrier Lake Road traffic posed. We talked gardens, food, family, fishing, dogs and politics. C'mon, you knew politics would weave itself in there, didn't you?
The Martins loved a good time and hosted many parties. At one, I was introduced to Earl's homemade smoked trout dip. It was a taste of heaven, and the trout was often caught during one of Earl's successful forays to a favorite fishing spot. That man loved to fish.
The Martins had a lovely way of ensuring people they cared about were included. I am particularly grateful as a single woman left out of couple-centric groups. There were occasions when the guest list was bigger than what their house could accommodate. I remember more than one surprise birthday party for Earl at larger venues, including the Silverthorne Bar at the old Westlake Hotel.
Christmas Eve was particularly special. Earl and Beth entertained family and friends while next-door neighbor Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Judge Diane Palos welcomed an equally large group. Those of us lucky enough to snag an invite to both were saved from trudging down one drive and up another, thanks to Earl's handiwork. He cut a hole in the back fence and installed a gate, a shortcut traveled often by neighbors who'd also become dear friends.
Life was not always fun and games on Lake Road. After returning from a visit to say some prayers at St. Christopher on Sept. 11, 2001, I wandered over to the Martins’ house. Earl, always the dutiful host, poured me a vodka while Beth pushed food she had raced to Lake Road Market to get as people arrived that sad day. When I got up to leave, I remember being told, "You're not going home. No one should be alone today." I did not know all who were huddled in that living room. I believe it speaks volumes about Earl's steadiness and Beth's huge heart that so many were drawn there that day.
I sought Earl out other times when things were not going well. One early Saturday morning, I appeared on his doorstep, my dog in my arms, soaking wet. The living room TV was blaring The Weather Channel's warning about flooding potential. Ha! I was way ahead of them. I loved my charming old house, but my sunken back yard became a lake during heavy rains. That morning, as water rose toward the basement back door, my anxiety rose, too.
Because it was the weekend, no one answered at the Rocky River Service Department. I asked Earl for the "magic number" that would bring help. He disappeared momentarily, then the two of us slogged across Lake Road. We stood on a step leading to my back yard and watched as a manhole lid blew into the air from pressure inside the sewer line running under the yard. Meanwhile, harried service department workers arrived, waited until the yard was drained and replaced the lid while explaining sewers throughout the city were overwhelmed. I've always believed Earl mustered those troops.
It was not fun watching Beth drive off to Lakewood Hospital more than one time when Earl was hospitalized for heart surgeries and complications. Once recovered, he'd joke and ask if we wanted to see his scar, for the umpteenth time.
I remember Beth steering me down the basement stairs one morning to see Earl's latest project. There he sat, sanding a beautiful piece of wood he was fashioning into a cradle for a grandchild who was on the way. He made cradles and rocking horses for each one.
During one of our chats, Earl told me the secret to being a good mayor: keep the streets repaired and plowed and pick up the leaves and garbage. He said he thought of himself as the city's maintenance guy. I also know Earl was a pretty darn effective hand holder. Just ask one of the hundreds who attended his wake to say thanks one more time, or me.
Some may call Earl a character. He could be. He was also a man of character — intelligent and street smart, a great joke and story teller, kind, and a good listener. I see him sitting in that living room chair, smoke curling up from a pipe, glass of vodka within reach, extolling the virtues of Rocky River, America, Republican candidates, fishing locations, grilling tools or the newsmakers of the day. In his new digs, he'll walk onto his sunny deck, pain free, cast a line into a well-stocked lake or stream, light his pipe, relax and be at peace.