Joseph Martin III


Joe Martin Obituary
Obituary published on by Tomblyn Funeral Home and Cremation Service on Feb. 24, 2024.
Joe Martin III, a longtime leader in state and local government whose service spanned decades and historic milestones, died Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, at his home in Charleston. He was 75.

Martin dedicated his life to public service. He holds the record as Elkins' youngest city council member and mayor, and the state's first Homeland Security advisor. He is remembered by colleagues as a statesman, friend and mentor, the one who would always pull through for the competition of any project.
"Some of my earliest memories are attending campaign events across the district with my father, seeing how much attention and care he paid to each of his constituents," said Martin's daughter, Abbey. "I may be an only child, but the people of West Virginia (especially Randolph and Pocahontas counties) may as well have been my siblings. He'd say, 'Ab, you always have to remember to put more into this world than you take out of it.' It was in his blood, and he made sure it would be in mine."
Martin's career began in 1973 when he was elected to Elkins City Council. Two years into his service, Elkins City Hall moved to its current location from Fourth Street, where the fire department was expanded and stands today.

After a four-year term on council, he won the race for mayor of Elkins in 1977 at age 28. He held that post until 1989.

During his tenure as mayor, he also served in the West Virginia House of Delegates District 30, representing residents of Randolph and Pocahontas counties. That service continued for 22 years amid redistricting. He was appointed to the legislature in June 1978 to fill the unexpired term of Julia Pitsenberger Elbon, was elected to the position later that year and again every two years through 1998.

"Joe was just a natural born leader," said Elkins resident Steve Shepler, who served on city council when Martin was mayor. "He did a tremendous job for Elkins as mayor and when he was in the House he could work on things we needed and bring them to the state level." He kept the city moving with progress, including upgrades to the landfill and the circa 1929 water plant.

Martin was also a mentor to Shepler.
"I observed him a lot when I was on council," Shepler said. "When he decided to not run again for mayor, he suggested I might consider it."
Shepler was successful in his bid and continued to work with Martin when the city needed help from the state.
As a member of the House, Martin served more than two terms as majority leader, chairman of the House Committee on Government Organization, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Government Operations, chairman of the House Select Committee on Health Care Policies, co-chairman of the Forest Management Review Commission, chairman of the House Committee on Oil and Gas, and as a member of the Joint Committee on Government and Finance, House Committee on Rules, Commission on Special Investigations and Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability.

With the onslaught of responsibility, Martin always focused on what was best for his constituents and residents of the state. A prime example is the purchase and development of the former CSX railyard in downtown Elkins. When the company pulled up tracks in what was the epicenter of the town's founding and later a hub of commerce transportation and employment, the Randolph County Development Authority knew the 20-plus acre site had to be repurposed for the good of the community. However, they were lacking the approximate $2 million asking price.

"Joe was instrumental in getting the majority of the funds and we raised the rest," said Jim Schoonover, who served as RCDA president at the time. "CSX took a note and it was about a four-year process."

Since then, it's been what Schoonover described as "one brick at a time" with the restoration of the depot, the bridge replacement, Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad excursions, Holiday Inn Express, the former theater and current church, as well as the future event center.

"All of this wouldn't have happened if we had not purchased it and that's all because of Joe Martin. He was the integral part."
In gratitude, Martin Street was named in his honor.

"It was the least we could do to put his name on the street in the middle of the railyard," Schoonover said.
"He never forgot who he represented and that showed when he got the money to buy the railyard," said Bill Hartman, a RCDA member at the time and later a member of the House of Delegates. "The railyard is very important to the community and will continue to be. Joe did that for us."
Former Elkins mayor Jimmy Hammond had a similar experience when the city planned to develop the 22-acre Riverbend Park.
"He got us the money to buy the land," Hammond said. "Any time we needed help, he was the go-to guy. He never failed me."
Today the park serves thousands of residents and visitors with athletic facilities for Little League baseball, soccer fields, walking trails and pavilions.
Tom Meader, retired Elkins fire chief, echoed Hammond's sentiments.

"Joe was one outstanding mayor," said Meader, who had just joined the fire department when Martin was on council. "He did a lot for the city to bring it forward. We had a lot of respect for him because when you went to him for help or a suggestion, he always gave you an answer – he never put you off."
An Elkins staple, the Mountain State Forest Festival was a favorite event for Martin. As a public official, he presented Queen Silvia with the "Investment of Mantle Authority" during the Royal Coronation ceremony. On at least one occasion, he stepped in for the governor to bestow the crown to her majesty.
Elkins businessman and former city councilman Harold Elbon, whose wife Julia preceded Martin's term in the House, enjoyed forming a partnership with the Forest Festival and the city.

"We worked a lot together on the Forest Festival when I was director general," Elbon said. "He and the city were very helpful. He was such a go-getter for Elkins."
Pocahontas County Commission President Walt Helmick considered Martin not only a close friend, but the one he always went to for advice on any issue that arose throughout his political career. That included the local and state fronts, along with multiple occurrences when the two crossed over to the federal level.
When he and Martin were discussing how to move the Corridor H project forward, they knew a trip to Washington, D.C., was in order. The two, along with Hartman, scheduled a meeting with former U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd and other leaders.

"I spent a lot of time in meetings in Washington because over half of Pocahontas County is owned by the federal government, so I had that connection," Helmick said. "But, in that meeting, it was just Joe's presence, how he conducted himself, and his connections with Jennings Randolph that made it successful. Everything that got re-energized came out of that meeting."

Byrd suggested they raise the gasoline tax by 5 cents, which then netted $55 million in one year to help fund the project beyond the Buckhannon to I-79 connection.
Helmick said that wasn't the only time Martin's very presence and knowledge made a difference. He cited Howes Tannery and Inter-State Hardwoods.
"If I called him with any issue, he was there," Helmick said. "He had connections to and knowledge of the timber industry and environmental issues. People appreciate that when they can connect with someone who knows about their business and what they face."

Among his other accomplishments, Martin ushered in a bill that exempted Helvetia cheese from most state food regulations and was instrumental in passing a bill to allow vintage cars to legally use license plates from the year they were manufactured.

In 2001, Martin was appointed Cabinet Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety – now the Department of Homeland Security – by then-Gov. Bob Wise. In that post he oversaw the divisions of Criminal Justice Services, Corrections, Juvenile Services, Regional Jail Authority, West Virginia Parole Board, State Police, Protective Services, Office of Emergency Services, Veterans Affairs, West Virginia National Guard and the West Virginia State Fire Commission.
It was during that time Christy Farris Morris, a former legislative lawyer, agreed to serve as Martin's deputy cabinet secretary. The two remained colleagues throughout their careers and as friends well after.

"He gave his all to everything," Farris Morris said. "He had the distinct ability to see through obstacles to find solutions."
Within a few months into his role with MAPS, one of those obstacles presented itself. The tragedy of 9/11 devastated the nation and Martin's duties expanded as the state's first Homeland Security advisor, a position the federal government required in each state. Advisors participated in regular meetings with the White House to discuss needs and plans in their states.

"During this time there was a flood of information coming in for new requirements and laws, and assessment of what resources were needed. Joe had never worked as a first responder and he wasn't afraid to let others teach him what he needed to know for this role," Farris Morris said. "Joe was very forward thinking and he knew how to marshal the resources to prepare for any act of terrorism. I think he enjoyed helping direct those plans."

In the meantime, the state was hit with natural disasters. When floods struck, destroying homes and communities, it was par for the course for Martin, Wise and sometimes Farris Morris to board helicopters for a bird's eye view.

"What you see from the air is entirely different. It's horrific," Farris Morris said. "Joe and the governor wanted to meet with those people, to give them comfort. Joe, in his shirt sleeves, would march up and ask how they could help. It was just part of who Joe was – always wanting to help people."

Among his work was involvement in years of planning for the state's 10 regional jails, including the Tygart Valley Regional Jail, which opened in 2005.
Martin's dedication, leadership and expertise in state government landed him in a new role in 2003 as Wise's legislative director, the liaison between the governor, House and Senate. Added to that was senior staff responsibility for the state budget.

"He was good at recognizing good legislation and shepherding it to become law," Farris Morris said. "And, he was good at masterfully passing a responsible budget."
Martin wasn't all business, though. Farris Morris recalls his sense of humor and quick wit to come up with puns, sometimes even on the House floor, that resulted in bursts of laughter.

And, then there were his random acts of kindness.
Farris Morris remembers one afternoon when the two were walking back to their office, grasping their umbrellas to protect them from driving rain.
"Joe was always alert to his surroundings, so when he saw a woman with no umbrella, standing drenched in the rain, he ran back and gave her his umbrella," she said. "He thought she needed it worse than he did. That's the stereotypical Joe Martin and that's one thing I will miss."

When Wise's administration ended, Martin was still at the top of the list for public service. In 2005, then-Gov. Joe Manchin appointed him deputy chief of staff and he also took on the responsibility of the state budget and public finance. He later worked as legislative director of West Virginia Policy and Legislative Affairs.
"It was around that time that bond ratings began to suffer," Farris Morris recalls. "Joe went to work and helped them to stay strong so people would move to West Virginia. He was loyal to the end and we are loyal to him to the end."

"Gayle and I are saddened by the passing of Joe Martin, a longtime friend and true public servant to the state of West Virginia," Manchin, now a U.S. Senator representing West Virginia, said. "Joe dedicated his life to the people of our great state and his legacy will always be remembered. I join all West Virginians in sending our thoughts and prayers to the Martin family."

Martin was born June 15, 1948, in Elkins, a son of the late Dr. Joseph E. Martin Jr. and Rose G. Martin.
He graduated from Greenbrier Military School in Lewisburg in 1966, where he achieved the title of battalion commander as the leading cadet. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon in 1970. In 1971, he began work on his master's degree in industrial relations at West Virginia University.

He is survived by his only daughter, Abbey R. Martin of Brooklyn, New York; a sister, Jane Ann Jesson of Enterprise, Alabama; a brother, John S. Martin and partner, Hope Rierson, of Elkins; several nieces and nephews; his former wife, Sarah Mongold Martin, and his grandpup Napoleon, whom he loved very much.
In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by a sister, Mary Edith Martin Schneider, and a brothers in-law, Edward J. Schneider and Darreld Jesson.

A Methodist by faith, Martin was a member of the First United Methodist Church of Elkins. A memorial service is planned for late June