Several friends emailed me yesterday and I learned, sadly, that Father Martin passed away on Monday. Father Joseph Martin (October 12, 1924 - March, 9 2009) was one of the giants in the formative days of the alcohol and drug treatment profession. He founded one of the premier treatment centers, Father Martin’s Ashley in Havre de Grace, Maryland and was even more widely known for his educational film, “Chalk Talk on Alcoholism” made in 1972 and still used in many places.
Bah. I sound like I’m writing a newspaper obituary column. Easy to do since it was one of my first jobs out of college. But that’s not what I need to do here since a quick Google or Yahoo Search will get you anything more you want to know, including some U-Tube snippets of Chalk Talk – well worth the glance.
And I can’t say I’m devastated by the news. Father Martin had been around forever and retired from active speaking a while ago. I hate to admit it but when I heard about his death, my first thought was, “I didn’t realize he was still alive.” Which, of course, he isn’t. But he was. Aw, you know what I mean.
To the left is a picture of Father Martin posing with...I guess it is Bagman’s Head on
I had the wonderful fortune, sometime around 1984 or 1985 to be the marketing/PR guy for a small chain of treatment centers in
I can’t recall the events (printing flyers, renting auditoriums, stuff like that) although I think they were successful. Mostly I remember what a great time I
had picking him up at the airport and driving around with him from place to place.
I was nervous at first. What should I say? What should I call him? Father? Mr. Martin? Joe? He got off the plane and before we got to the luggage carousel, he pointed at the men’s restroom and said, “Excuse me for a minute while I go and shed a tear for the Ku Klux Clan.”
He had disappeared behind the door before I got it. But it was just the beginning of non-stop entertainment with a message. Although the only other joke he told that I specifically remember didn’t really have a message. We were speeding along the Massachusetts Turnpike and he asked, “Do you know what’s the last thing that goes through a bug’s mind when it hits the windshield?”
“No,” I replied truthfully.
“Its asshole,” he said.
I almost choked. Did a Catholic Priest just use the word “asshole?” Is God going to strike us both dead?
Of course, now, I’m doubting my own priorities if I was able to spend two full days with this really brilliant man and all I clearly recall are two short jokes, neither of which have anything to do with alcoholism.
Oops! No. Thankfully, that is not quite true. I just remembered one other story he told over dinner about when he was first building Ashley. I’ve never seen the place but apparently the main entry way to the building has a large foyer and a beautiful polished wood staircase and banister going up to the rooms where patients begin their detox. He said that when the cost of the staircase became known to his Board of Directors, they called him in and demanded to know why he would spend so much money to make the place look so good when it was going to be used to treat alkies.
His answer was that, by the time alcoholics reach that point in life when they need inpatient treatment, they have lost all sense of self-respect and self-worth. That their families and friends had also lost all respect for them as well. He insisted that treating them as honored guests in a beautiful place was an essential step in changing that paradigm for them and getting them sober.
I’ve internalized that lesson, although until today, I’d forgotten where I learned it. The place I work, now, is not luxurious although it is clean and functional. But everyday, as I walk up the sidewalk to the front door, I will usually stop and pick up any candy-wrappers or trash that anyone has dropped.
Tomorrow, if I do that, I’ll look up at the sky and say, “Thanks for the reminder.” Although, I’m still not sure whether I’ll call him “Father Martin” or “Joe”.