Betty Jean Martin, a nurse and community activist who worked tirelessly to improve her West Baltimore neighborhood, died of cancer Friday at Mercy Medical Center. The Edmondson Village resident was 67.
A licensed practical nurse, Mrs. Martin retired in 1987 after working for 30 years at what is now University of Maryland Medical Center.
Born and raised in Shelby, N.C., Betty Matthews moved to Baltimore in the early 1950s and graduated from the University of Maryland School of Nursing.
After her 1958 marriage to Henry Wylie Martin Sr., the coupled settled in Edmondson Village.
Her community activism began while serving as president of the PTO at Lyndhurst Elementary School, and it wasn't long before she had earned a reputation as a neighborhood trouble-shooter who handled a variety of resident complaints.
From the living room of her Lyndhurst Street rowhouse, where she held meetings with community leaders and city officials, Mrs. Martin coordinated battles against crime and organized block watches. She lobbied for better educational and recreational opportunities for area children. She fought for better trash pickup and made sure houses were painted and yards cleaned.
Mrs. Martin had a determination that earned her the nickname of Mother Martin.
"She had a tremendous spirit and was a force in the city and her neighborhood for years. She was a very powerful person and a model citizen who touched hundreds and hundreds of lives," said Mayor Martin O'Malley, who was befriended by Mrs. Martin during his campaign for mayor.
"She was a good friend of mine both politically and civically. With the strength of her personality, she kept that neighborhood from deteriorating," said state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, former mayor and governor. "She was a tremendous civic activist. A good lady. We're going to miss her."
"She was such a dynamo who had the uncanny insight in being able to convince people of her vision. She could touch people and get things done," said Elizabeth H. Glover, also an Edmondson Village activist and friend. "She may have been a small, elegant Southern lady, but was a giant when it came to getting things done."
Mrs. Martin founded the Lyndhurst Community Association in 1981 and remained its president until her death. Over the years, she became affiliated with more than 20 city neighborhood groups.
In 1985, she established Martin Resources Inc., a community-based nonprofit group that helped at-risk elementary, middle and high school youths build self-esteem and achieve academic excellence.
Weekly meetings were held for students at Lyndhurst Elementary School and programs included arts and crafts classes, computer labs, a drug awareness program, sports activities and a read-a-thon. She also organized a contest for graduating high school students that earned them a $100 college scholarship.
Mrs. Martin ended the program late last year because of her failing health.
Georgine M. Edgerton, president of the Mount Holly Improvement Association, said, "She'd do anything to promote good will and make it better for all people. And she never gave up and was on her feet until the end of her life. The work she has done and the seeds she has planted will live on. She certainly made it a better world."
In a 1991 interview with The Sun, Mrs. Martin said: "I can't conquer the world. I just want to get something positive done. That's what I'm trying to do: Spread a little cheer."
In recognition of her community activism, Mrs. Martin was inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame of the Baltimore City Commission for Women in 1996.
She was an active member for 27 years of New Shiloh Baptist Church.
A memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. Jan. 22 at Vaughn C. Greene Funeral Home, 5151 Baltimore National Pike.
In addition to her husband, a retired postal supervisor, Mrs. Martin is survived by a son, Henry Wylie Martin Jr. of Baltimore; two daughters, Kimberly A. Martin of Catonsville and Vanessa R. Hurt of Boston; her mother, Maneda Fisher of Alexandria, Va.; eight grandchildren; and a great-grandson.