Honorary Doctor of Laws
JOSEPH BACON MARTIN III
October 30, 2001
When the Baltimore Orioles great third baseman, Cal Ripken, broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played, he said, in his typically modest way, "All I ever did was get up every morning, go to the ballpark, and do my very best." Joe Martin along with his wife Joan was in the ballpark on that September day in 1995, when Ripken established the Cal RipkenLou Gehrig Fund for ALS research, and Ripken's words made a great impression on him. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Arthur M. Martin '25, Joseph Bacon Martin '62 knew his Bible, and he remembered a verse from a favorite psalm: "This is the day the Lord has made: rejoice and be glad therein." Something clicked in his mind, and he constructed a motto, which he sees each morning when he wakes up: "This is the day the Lord has made: Get up, go to the ballpark, and do your very best."
That is what Joe Martin has been doing all his life. "He has been a force for incredible good," says African-American Methodist Bishop George Battle, who served with Martin on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board in the 1980's. "There is not a prejudiced bone in Joe Martin's body and he has used that to help countless people who don't even know he helped them."
A native of South Carolina and a graduate of Dreher High School in Columbia, where he served as head cheerleader and student body vice president, he came to Davidson a year after his older brother, former Governor Jim Martin, had graduated., and he stayed on after his graduation in 1962 to work in the admissions office and to help President Grier Martin integrate African students into the then all-white student body. After an M.A. in American Studies at the University of Minnesota and a doctorate in medieval English at Duke University, Joe Martin eventually brought his family back to Charlotte in 1973 to work for what was then North Carolina National Bank. He immediately went to work, first under Tom Storrs and then under Hugh McColl, to develop the conscience of what became first Nationsbank and then Bank of America. He emphasized low-interest lines of credit for affordable housing and was a major force in helping predominantly black colleges and universities like Johnson C. Smith and Livingstone in Salisbury finance needed construction. He passionately believed that the bank could be used to make the world a better place.
In 1994 he was diagnosed with ALSamyotrophic lateral sclerosisor Lou Gehrig's Disease, and in the last seven years he has "gone to the ballpark every day," and fought not only the disease itself but the temptation to let the disease reduce his usefulness. He has, with the help of his brother Jim, helped to raise more than $3 million to establish the Carolinas Neuromuscular/ALS Center at Carolinas Medical Center, because he found out that the closest centers for ALS patients in this area were in Houston and Philadelphia. He continued to work for Nationsbank and Bank of America until his retirement last year. "His advice has not suffered like his body," said CEO Hugh McColl. "If anything, his advice is better." He has also continued to work for the improvement of race relations in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area, and in 1997, when he was honored with the Whitney M. Young Award by the Urban League, he promoted the idea of "Race Day," a day each week when people would make an effort to eat lunch with a member of another race. In that same year he was honored by his Alma Mater by becoming the first recipient of the John W. Kuykendall Award for Community Service.
Quietly, during all this time, he was teaching himself to compose on an eye-gaze computer, as he gradually lost the use of his hands. And with the help of Charlotte biographer Ross Yockey, he wrote On Any Given Day, his moving account of his battle with ALS, a book not so much about the disease as about how to live a meaningful life despite the disease. And then, just this month, the Novello Festival Press has published Fire In The Rock, his first novel, an account of the friendship among a white preacher's son, a beautiful white girl, and a talented black boy during their growing up in the 1950's in South Carolina and during their adulthood in the turbulent '60's. His novel becomes one more example of his continuing fight against racial prejudice and misunderstanding.
Because you have used your talents for the good of others and not for selfish gain
Because your vision has enabled you to see, when others did not, that all men and women, regardless of race or creed, are truly equal in God's sight
Because you have used your position with one of our nation's great banks to make that corporation more human, more caring, more interested in helping those less fortunate
Because you have refused defeat and "gone to the ballpark every day" despite the effects of a life-threatening disease
Because you have stirred our hearts with your words, made us laugh with your wit, and built our courage with your example,
Davidson College honors you, Joseph Bacon Martin III, and names you Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson is currently engaged in "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.