Former Aspen political activist dies in Utah
Political activist, longtime Aspen resident and Renaissance woman Mary Martin died Saturday at her Park City, Utah, home. She was 86 years old.A tireless advocate for conservative values, history and art, Martin was probably best known locally for religiously attending city government meetings and standing behind her chosen causes. She discussed those issues with humor as co-host on “The Wink and Mary Show” with local developer and activist Wink Jaffee on GrassRoots TV.Martin’s fundraising abilities were also legendary – she formed Anderson Ranch Arts Center into the organization it is today. And as a former board member of the Music Associates of Aspen, Aspen Art Museum, GrassRoots TV and Aspen Institute, she raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for those organizations. She was also a painter, art dealer and collector, television producer, composer and playwright. One of her proudest achievements was being part of an all-female archeological research expedition to Egypt; the team’s findings made it into the Cairo Museum, and the project, which continued for several years, was widely publicized.”She was a born activist and advocate and was active on many different fronts ,” said KNCB Moore, another local political observer. “Talking is one thing and active is another.”
“She was very energetic, very good at the financial end of things, and she dedicated herself wholeheartedly to her projects,” said Terry Butler, who worked with Martin on Butler’s mayoral campaign.Born in Salt Lake City into a prominent doctor’s family, Martin graduated from the University of Utah and studied art at various museums and institutes. She married Gen. William “Bill” Martin, a military base commander who moved the family all over the United States until his retirement in 1968. Throughout that time, his wife didn’t officially work, but she organized clubs and activities and even wrote a musical for which she made costumes and sets. Following a short stint in Los Angeles, the Martins moved to Aspen when Bill was hired to head the Snowmass Development Corp. in 1971.It was in Aspen that Mary Martin’s various “careers” bloomed. A frequent visitor to the hodgepodge of artists’ studios that was Anderson Ranch in Snowmass, she decided it should be its own nonprofit, and she did all the legwork necessary to make that happen. Serving as president of the board, she also hired the initial staff and did the primary fundraising.
“Her chief attribute was that she was great at getting things going,” said Anderson Ranch executive director Jim Baker. “In later years she would come by and see how it was going, and I’m sure it was a great feeling that the place was not just continuing to go, but prospering – that her early efforts were rewarded.”Martin’s dedication and fundraising skills dovetailed with her appreciation of history when she was appointed as chairwoman of the local celebration of Colorado’s centennial and the nation’s bicentennial in 1984. During this stint, she produced a film on the life of pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson and raised money for a book on Aspen history, Ashcroft ghost town restoration and the Little Red Schoolhouse. She also served on the Aspen Historic Preservation board for four years.Martin kept her passion for art throughout her life. She owned a gallery of contemporary American Indian art in Aspen (as well as one in New York), curated shows and organized the first museum show for a Navajo painter in France. An interest in Egyptology led her to join three local women on an archeological expedition to Egypt, where a pharaoh’s tomb was opened specially for the group. One of the team members, Aspenite Betje Carlson, described Martin as “the little general, because she was like our housemother, she kept us all in order, she did everything.” But it’s Martin’s steadfast, almost stubborn involvement in Aspen politics that is her true local legacy. A diehard Republican, she was an anomaly in a liberal town, and she liked to stir the pot.
She was passionately anti-drug. At one point she campaigned to oust Sheriff Bob Braudis, who was known for his passive stance on drugs. In the mid-1990s, when the Martins moved from Aspen, The Aspen Times published a “good riddance” cartoon; she responded with her own cartoon depicting her opinion of the liberal city government.”She pursued all these different interests, and she was always so interesting,” her daughter Mary said. “In one night talking with Mom we talked about kings and Egyptian history, the war in Iraq, Russian music and the czars, Indian art …”Though she rankled many locals, Martin was also a social grand dame, hosting numerous functions at the Martins’ West End home.”We’d come home and never knew who we’d find there; she’d have all these people over,” her daughter said. “She was a lot of fun at a dinner party and always loved to debate. People said she was a mentor and a role model – always being active in her interests. We just thought she was a great lady.”