Martha ‘Martie’ Whitcomb
October 11, 2010
Martha “Martie” Whitcomb Sterling was born in Lemoyne, Penn., on Oct. 23, 1924. Her mother was a concert pianist; her father a Firestone tire dealer. During the depression, her mother semi-retired from playing Sibelius to inventory retreads.
Despite hard times, she grew up in a family brimming with love and joy. Her grandmother, an ardent member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, regaled Martie with stories of her great, great grandfathers who fought at Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill. One branch of Martie’s family settled in Indiana where her great uncle, James Whitcomb Reilly, became The Hoosier Poet. Her great aunt, Carrie Whitcomb, became notable in her own right. The third woman to cross Independence Pass from Leadville to the new 1881 Aspen silver camp, Carrie later wed Judge James Watson, for whom Watson Divide was named.
Martie’s branch of the family moved to western Pennsylvania. She grew up in Lemoyne and Camp Hill, attended Lemoyne High School, where she was voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” was valedictorian of her high school class and was the only Pennsylvania student ever to win both the Senatorial and American Legion College Scholarships. Martie elected to attend Duke University so she could get the hell out of Pennsylvania. She later transferred to Syracuse where classes where more adventurous and graduated cum Laude. She was a member of the French and Drama honorary fraternities and won a prize for a written essay, which landed her a job at Mademoiselle Magazine in New York. Any plans she had for becoming a New York diva were halted by her marriage to husband Kenneth Robinson Sterling.
Martie and Ken lived in Hanover, N.H., and Camp Hill, Penn., until 1959, when Martie won enough money on a national quiz program to finance their dream of rearing their family in ski country.
Together with Martie’s brother, Dr. “Whit” Whitcomb, they raised their five children along with a niece and nephew in Aspen while operating the Heatherbed Lodge. The next years were glorious pandemonium, full of hunting expeditions, ski clubs, ride and swim camps for kids and a running house party. Their children became ski racers. Their oldest son, Whit, was a member of the U.S. Ski Team and later, a pro racer. Son Daniel also raced professionally.
With the children all in school, Martie returned to her writing and eventually wrote four books, “Oh Be Joyful,” “Days of Stein and Roses,” “Last Flight from Iran,” and “Pearly Everlasting.” She also wrote hundreds of magazine and news pieces on skiing, travel, humor and history. She was a contributing editor to SKI magazine and for five years wrote the back-page humor column for SKI called “Last Run.”
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In 1983, she co-founded the Aspen Writers’ Foundation with the late Karen Chamberlain and was a longtime director. Her travel writing eventually took her and Ken to Greece, Turkey, Africa, France, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Canada. She always considered her life to have been a splendid adventure and the fulfillment of her childhood fantasies: soaring in a hot air balloon over Tanzania, sailing Turkey and the Greek Islands, diving the Great Barrier Reef and being marooned in the mountains of Eastern Europe.
In 1991, Martie and Ken moved to Tucson to enjoy their quiet years playing golf, swimming, and relaxing with other Aspen expats, friends and members of the El Conquistador Country Club. In 2009 they returned to the Roaring Fork Valley to live in Basalt under the care of their children where Ken died in June of that year. Martie continued to live in her home in Basalt, enjoying her children and grandchildren. Martie passed away peacefully, at home, surrounded by her family.
Martie is survived by her children: Robinson Sterling, of St. Petersberg, Fla.; Whitcomb Sterling, Gwyneth Sterling Gosney and Sarah Sterling, all of Basalt; and Daniel Sterling, of Irvine, Calif; by grandchildren Erika Jane Gosney, and Jacob and Miles Levy, all of Basalt; by niece Deirdre Morgan, of Brawley, Calif.; nephew Michael Whitcomb, of Denver; by her brother, Dr. Roger Whitcomb, of Emmaus, Penn.; and by many beloved nieces and nephews.
Donations in Martie’s name may be made to The Hospice of the Valley. The Sterling family welcomes friends to the celebration of Martie’s life on Saturday, Oct. 16, at 4 p.m. at the Hotel Jerome ballroom in Aspen.