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Remembering A Superhero

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Remembering a Superhero

Lindsey Martin was not your average superhero.

The only child of older parents of limited means, and not particularly athletic, he enjoyed retreats into a world of fantasy as a little boy.  Like many kids of his generation, he devoured comic books and idolized Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman as they struggled to defeat the forces of evil and set the world to rights.

Lindsey loved school and was an excellent student.  He attended Roanoke College where he fell in love with history, especially English history, most especially with the Tudors and English royalty from Elizabeth I forward.  He read voraciously and could quote chapter and verse of the lives of the Tudors and Windsors.

He put himself through college by working in the library.  It took him longer than usual because his mother was in poor health, but the extra work experience set him on the path of his career.  After earning a graduate degree in library science at the University of Tennessee, he began his career at Southwest Virginia Community College.  Budget cuts there sent him on to Chattanooga-Hamilton County Public Library in Tennessee.  He then accepted a job with the Arlington County Public Library, but when a routine physical turned up renal failure and a malignancy, the job offer was retracted.  Lindsey found himself in need of serious medical care but without a job, health insurance, or parental assistance, both parents having died. 

Thanks to help from relatives, friends, and the Kidney Foundation, Lindsey got through surgery and stabilization and began dialysis.  He could have gone on disability, but as he said at the time, “All this is happening to me and I haven’t lived yet”.  He was barely 30 years old.  He chose to work, to make a professional contribution to society.  As things have a way of working out, TCPL was looking to hire our first technical services librarian.  We could offer a flexible work schedule to accommodate Lindsey’s thrice-weekly dialysis, and he brought a wealth of knowledge, training, and capability to our library.  Thus, that August 1985 began a happy association that lasted two and a half decades.

Over the years, Lindsey saw us through transition of the public catalog from the old typewritten and then printed cards to microfiche, then CD-ROM, then finally to online in real time.  He chafed at the bit to move on to the next technology, marveling at how much time each upgrade saved and how much more he could accomplish.

When he began with TCPL, Lindsey’s office was a little corner in the staff workroom in “the back”.  After the bookmobile garage became vacant and was outfitted with a floor and pegboard wall finish, that room, really in “the back”, became his domain.  He was obsessive about neatness and order, and carefully arranged all his surroundings,  from the carts of new books to be processed to the squared stacks of books on his desk and the precisely lined up sticky notes which were his to do list.  He decorated his workspace with busts of famous writers, a framed poster of Melvil Dewey and his classification scheme, and a white cat shared by one of the staff children.  With determined neatness, he created an oasis of orderly calm in an often chaotic environment.

Lindsey adored animals and felt great compassion for homeless cats and dogs.  Unable to keep a pet himself, he delighted in the occasional visit from staff pets or the appearance of strays around the library.  He was a quiet contributor to the ASPCA.

He was also compassionate toward people, regardless of their station in life, and showed considerable patience and understanding with a wide variety of library visitors when he emerged from “the back” to work his evening or weekend shift “out front”.  A private person, he nonetheless struck up friendships with a wide circle of people, including staff, library patrons, nurses and doctors, and his fellow dialysis patients and had special empathy for those experiencing trying life situations.  He found himself counseling others who appreciated his discretion, experience and wisdom.

Lindsey was an excellent teacher, thoughtfully considering the student’s point of view and structuring training to suit the individual.  He once said he had dreamed of becoming a professor of library science and teaching cataloging, at which he was an expert.  He was a generous colleague, taking time to help staff at our HAL consortium’s member libraries, and contributing to professional listservs. 

Lindsey was a meticulous perfectionist, insisting that things be done right.  A professional through and through, he valued his education, partly because it was so hard won, and was committed to his work, spending many hours of his own time working via his computer from home.  He could become exasperated with those who put in their time but who didn’t care about the results or who whined about trivial matters.  While there were many days when he didn’t feel well, he came to work because he knew we needed him and because he cared about making his contribution.

He also came because we were the family he didn’t have.  And for the food.  He had to be careful about his diet, but loved the birthday goodies and occasional celebrations staff shared.  And the camaraderie.  And Lindsey was a ham who relished attention.  For Halloween, he dressed in his Superman or Batman costumes, or in the magnificent floor length cape and crown Nora Lockett made for their portrayal of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria.  Hollywood royalty was another of his passions.  He read many movie star biographies and saw all the classic films as well as contemporary pictures, and developed an outstanding collection of VHS tapes and DVDs for the library.

Some years ago, after much encouragement from his doctor, he worked through the requirements to become a candidate for a kidney transplant.  He struggled with the decision, because if the transplant did not work, he had no other options.  He also worried that accepting a kidney from a donor would deny a younger person the opportunity for a healthy life and, so, after being accepted on the list, quietly he removed himself from it.  He continued dialysis, until hobbling on painful feet, working on his computer with gnarled, permanently bent fingers, he realized he wasn’t able to continue working each day, and retired a year ago.  And yet, he came in once or twice a week as a volunteer and did cleanup work from his computer at home.

On April 26, Lindsey Martin died as he had lived, with quiet dignity, patience and grace, on his own terms, looking forward to what the next life has in store for him.  He rose above the tragedies life cruelly dealt him and, in the end, without bitterness, retained his belief in the essential goodness in others.  In his own way, he conquered the evil in his world by not letting it hold sway over him.  Lindsey Martin was far from the average fantasy hero because he was real, a living, breathing, passionate, moral, committed human being.  We remember him with love and gratitude.  An unsung hero in life, he will forever be our remarkable Superman in our library memory.

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