Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Happy 90th birthday to 'Papa' Martin, who's living a happy life

Grady Martin poses in his wonderful summer garden at home on the Stillwater River.

Widower rebounds after loss and 66 year marriage with gardening, travel, birds, dogs, friends


HE'S 90  years old tomorrow, and he's the only thing between me and the orphanage.
Grady savors a meal with Cookie and Keller at La Jolla 
 Shores Restaurant near their San Diego home.
My sweet neighbor, Grady Martin, nicknamed "Papa" by me 18 years ago, is as American as apple pie.
A self-made man, veteran, father, devoted husband for 66 years and my pal during my West Fork summers in Montana, Papa  traveled the world, returning to his adored Montana to build his retirement home in 1995. He became our family's cherished "grandfather figure," part of every celebration, reunion and memorial.
When his wife Kathy passed away three summers ago, folks speculated that Papa might not make it. But after a couple difficult years and a bout with pneumonia, Papa is back in fine fettle and ready to celebrate his 90th.
BORN IN 1923, he grew up in rural Florida, raised by his mother and grandmother.  He lost his only sibling, Jackie, at a young age. He says he never went hungry, but recalls eating "plenty of beans, biscuits and
Grady and his brother
 Jackie, circa 1928.

veggies from our garden."
Kathy and Grady with their 
daughter Pam, circa 1945.
"I was probably what we'd consider poor now," says Grady. "But I didn't know the difference.  Most everybody was in my boat. We kept cheerful, worked hard and didn't complain."
In 1940, in his senior year of college, Grady won a 4-H trip to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  There he met the love of his life, a Billings, Montana, girl, Kathy Suiter.  "She was chosen for her cooking ability and I for farming," laughs Grady. "We went on all the tours together, holding hands in the bus."
Nick and Nora with Papa in San Diego.
AT THE END of the conference, they promised to write. In those pre-World War II days, courting was by letter.  The two corresponded, and after a year of college at University of Florida, Grady traveled to Oregon to work for the Forest Service near Bend. Each was dating other people, "but we kept in touch," says Grady. They arranged -- all by letter -- for Grady to return to Florida via Montana. He took the bus to Billings where Kathy met him and ushered him home to meet her family.
Cookie and "Papa" christen a wllow in Kathy's memory.

"Then she decided to come visit me in Florida over Christmas," remembers Grady. In the shadow of Pearl Harbor, Kathy took the train.  "It wasn't long after she arrived that we decided to get married," says Grady.
THE LONG marriage included Grady's World War II Army service in Europe.  Kathy wrote love letters.  Grady responded.  They had four children: Pam, Doug, Marty and Sean.  The three sons will be in Montana for the celebration.  Pam died in 1989.  
Grady has achieved what few people do:  he's been retired longer than he worked, mostly at
Grady & Cookie  share a sunset picnic over looking La Jolla Shores.
Western Airlines (bought up by Delta, after Grady's retirement!) He and his family still travel on Delta and her partners, using "non-rev" or stand-by passes. It's a fitting perk for a guy who still loves travel. He worked the ticket counter in Billings, then Phoenix, and finally San Diego, all places dear to his heart.
"Now, I am content to stay put," says Grady, surveying his handsome corn crop on the Stillwater's West Fork.
Last year, he visited Keller and me at our town home in La Jolla. He twice crossed the Pacific to spend time with son Sean in Maui, where he and Kathy loved to vacation.
Grady and Keller barbeque fresh trout on
the "Stillwater Beach," below Grady's house.
He also visited Phoenix friends, and made a couple trips to Seattle where his other sons have lived. Marty, a builder and handyman, recently moved to Montana and hopes to stay here to keep his dad company.
DESPITE A low-grade leukemia that requires a monthly blood infusion, our Papa keeps fit -- walking, gardening, chopping wood, helping keep my lawn green and flowers watered when I'm cavorting. He still cranks up the barbecue and plays pinochle Monday nights, shows up at church occasionally, although he's an avowed agnostic. ("I'd say atheist but it makes people jumpy.") He is known for his kindness, amiable nature and appreciation of our environment. He even planted petunias and lilacs at Nye Post Office.

Grady tucks into mussels, fish tacos and wine with
Cookie and Keller at La Jolla Shores Restaurant.
Since Kathy died (she called herself my "mountain Mama") Papa and I established a ritual of dining together several nights a week.  The evenings includes "Jeopardy," a glass of wine on his deck and lively conversation while I rustle us up a stir fry or pasta.  Often, Papa prepares salad with veggies from his garden, full circle to his childhood. Having lost both my parents now, my beloved Papa is a sounding board -- the compassionate, thoughtful elder we all need, no matter how old we are.
PAPA FIGURES his European travel is likely ended, and doesn't intend to reprise the skydiving escapade of his 75th birthday.
Grady gives travel advice for Cookie's frequent
commutes between Montana and California.

But he has promised to come see us in San Diego in 2014, where we treat him to a mean fish taco. He's talking about next year's garden. He still loves to study maps, keeps the coffee pot on for pop-in guests, likes a glass of wine, fills his bird feeder, indulges in a cookie or two at the post office, and admires a Beartooth sunset.
All good signs that he's here for awhile!
"I'm one lucky guy," he says, gazing at the mountains which frame his home.
So are we to know you, Papa.
Love you, and happy, happy birthday!

Cookie, Keller, Captain Lazzarino and officers.

COMING UP: We celebrate my 100th cruise with pointers on cruising, a look at barge and large-ship travel, and a visit to the bridge with Captain Luca Lazzarino onboard Carnival's Miracle. We also look at Holland-America, Crystal, Celebrity, Oceania, Cunard and other favorite lines. 
Then we continue our revels in Portugal and one of the country's most elegant hotels, Altis Belem, overlooking the Tagus River harbor. Remember to explore, learn and live. And check us out at:


  1. What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man. Grady just makes me smile and makes Nye a better place. Happy birthday!

  2. Happy Birthday to a dear, sweet man. What a life he has lived...and continues to live to the fullest. Love to you, Grady.
    Deb and Buck Grifin

  3. Just caught this wonderful memorial to a sweet man. So sorry to hear of his passing and hope you will post this on Facebook, Christene. So many would enjoy it.