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Gresham loses longtime activist

by: Contributed graphic, Mary Martin

Longtime neighborhood activist, Gresham City Hall watchdog and local real estate broker Mary Martin, 56, died in her sleep Friday, March 9. The cause of her death has yet to be determined.

Stunned, heartbroken friends recall a woman who loved her country, community, family and profession.

'I am just so shocked,' said friend and fellow real estate broker Barbara Kyle. '… I just feel Mary played a key role in the community.'

'I think it's a huge loss to the Gresham community, not just the real estate community,' said Diana Allmer, owner of Real Estate Headquarters where Martin worked. 'She was such an activist and gave a lot of her time. … This leaves a big hole, a big void in our community. She will definitely be missed in a lot of different areas.'

Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis echoed her sentiments. 'Mary was a tireless volunteer who gave freely of her time and talent,' Bemis said in a prepared statement issued from Washington, D.C., where he is representing the National League of Oregon Cities and Metro's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation. 'Our city will miss her strong faith and faith in community. She dedicated her time to improving the place around her, an example to which we should all aspire.'

Martin was a Texas girl, through and through - right down to her long flashy nails and rings on darn near every finger.

Even her car - a Subaru Outback decked out with star-spangled banners and patriotic words of encouragement such as 'Support our Troops' and 'Proud to be an American' - grabbed people's attention.

Martin, born and raised in San Angelo, a small west Texas town founded by her great, great, great-grandmother from Mexico, had a heart and personality as big as her home state.

In a June 2002 interview with The Outlook, Martin recalled moving to Gresham in 1973, in part because it reminded her of Texas. 'Good country people, solid values, a heart for the red, white and blue,' she said. 'They had a sense of community and history. It was kind of like we were meant for each other.'

Arlee Webb, an owner and principle broker with Persimmon Realty, started her real estate career with Martin 21 years ago. She remembers Martin as tenacious and determined to do the right thing. 'She was like a bulldog when it came to governmental affairs issues,' Webb said.

Not long after moving to Gresham, Martin took on City Hall. Her house was right behind Dea's In and Out burger restaurant, and the city wanted to punch her neighborhood street through to Burnside. Martin galvanized her neighbors, Gresham left the street alone and Martin learned the importance of neighborhood unity.

Later, in 1978, shortly after moving to southwest Gresham, Martin rallied her neighbors to fight a developer building duplexes along Binford Pond. The neighbors succeeded in tying the developer's hands for four or five years, she recalled with pride. In the end, the developer donated land around the pond to Gresham. High-end housing now covers the rest of the property.

The battle united her neighborhood and led to the creation of the city's first neighborhood association. Before long, associations representing neighborhoods across the city had formed. Many dealt with similar issues, and a platform from which they all could be reached - the Neighborhood Coalition - was born.

Citizens often marveled at her land-use expertise and would ask Martin why she bothered fighting developers and/or politicians. 'I want to look at myself in the mirror and know I've done all I can,' she'd say.

Martin is survived by her husband of 38 years Jim Martin; her daughter Tracey Martin, 28; and her 3-year-old granddaughter Jayden Martin, all of Gresham.