In a day and age when it seems that we are challenged to find our place somewhere between boisterous activism and silent pacifism, Patricia E. Martin has managed to strike exactly the right chord in her life of community service. Reminiscent of the phrase often attributed to JFK but with rabbinical origins, ‘if not now, when; if not me, who?” this has been the principle by which Pat Martin has lived her entire adult life. From her early years as school librarian at Amity High School, to her most recent service to the Library Board at Clark Memorial, her life’s work has been to immerse herself into challenging problems seeking creative and effective solutions. Not just by serving on a committee or offering suggestions but by rolling up her sleeves and doing the hard work to ensure those solutions enact positive change.
As the Amity High School librarian for thirty years, it was her job to manage the literary and media resources of the school, but she expanded her role into that of a resource and advocate for engagement, achievement and growth available to anyone who passed through those library doors. She organized a book club for faculty and staff members that not only engendered civil discourse among her group but also fostered relationships between these coworkers who rarely knew each other outside their academic departments. Students would occasionally join the faculty group and in the readings and discussions, often carrying over the debate and analysis into the classroom. She also created a Cultural Enrichment Program to supplement classroom learning that enabled teachers to attend lectures in the Media Center with their students on a variety of topics including art, politics, history and science.
An avid sailor since the ‘60’s, Pat and her colleague and former Bethany resident, Ian Fenton formed the Amity Sailing Club. As Pat explains, “We had a group of active, hotshot sailors in the student body at the time and they wanted to sail competitively. Ian and I were both sailors and wanted to encourage the sport. Amity was happy to let any clubs supporting student interests to form.” And so they did. Pat and Ian arranged with the Yale Sailing Club in Branford to use their boats for practice and had an arrangement with Milford Yacht Club to use their junior sailing fleet. The students competed against mostly private schools such as Hotchkiss and Tabor Academy. “We had some really good sailors for a few years who did very well.”
Pat’s gift and artistic passion is for pottery and photography all of which is prominently displayed when you visit her home. So, it was quite in character that in 1990, she initiated the Library Art Award to promote student participation to explore their potential and to celebrate the arts in the school. She also organized a Faculty Art Show which highlighted the creative activities of the faculty. And she says she’s still very proud that the Amity High School library was only the second library in the state to have an online catalogue in the 1980’s.
She did all this not because it was part of her job, it was not. She did it because she thought it would improve relationships and create a more welcoming and enlightened place to teach, learn and work.
In 1997, she spent a semester at Oxford after being awarded a scholarship by the English-Speaking Union whose goal was to “promote a variety of activities such as debating, public speaking and student exchange programs and scholarships and encourage the effective use of the English language around the globe.” ¹ After completing her semester at Oxford, Pat was invited to serve on the ESU scholarship committee and did so for several years. “I wish that every teacher could have an experience like this sometime during their career,” Pat says of her studies in Shakespeare and English Literature while at Oxford University.
She was a member of the Bethany Democratic Town Committee for many years and the Campaign Chairman in 2003 for the first successful Bethany Democratic victory for First Selectman since 1919; the one which elected Derrylyn Gorski, also the first woman to be elected First Selectman in Bethany since its incorporation in 1832.
Most people who attend the annual Spaghetti Supper know her as one of the two auctioneers who run the live auction. She and her partner, Scott Zimmerman, who joined Pat on the stage in 2005 have been calling the bids while entertaining and engaging the crowd for over 20 years. But for her first five years as Spaghetti Supper Committee Chair, she shared the duties as head chef with the late Lucien Boisvert as they teamed up to prepare a full Italian “all you can eat” dinner for about 200 event goers.
She has been a member and officer on the Clark Memorial Library Board for more than eight years and an outspoken advocate for acquiring the funding the library needs to continue to offer important services to residents of all ages. On her library profile page, she expresses her pride in serving on this board and in helping “to make our library the cultural and educational hub of our wonderful town-a place where we can all “Engage-Connect and Grow.” She was instrumental in bringing Melissa Canham-Clyne to Clark Memorial Library as its director back in 2012, a move that has proved to be a major acquisition for the library and the community. “She brightens up my day,” says Melissa Canham-Clyne of Pat Martin, “She works so hard to help us build a strong foundation. I really value her honesty. She challenges us to make sure we understand what we’re trying to do, not in a contrarian way but as a true leader.”
“Pat is the quintessential volunteer, the person you turn to when something needs to be done. Living in Bethany for over 45 years, Pat has always volunteered in some fashion, has always been involved in an activity that improved the mission of the group she dedicated her time to,” said First Selectman Derrylyn Gorski.
Pat was appointed to the Airport Hangar Study Committee by First Selectman, Derrylyn Gorski in 2005 which brought in the Yale Urban Design Workshop to develop the original plan for the restoration of the old hangar building. Later that year, she was appointed to the Airport Steering Committee to represent the Board of Selectmen. She still serves as an active member of what is now the Airport Restoration Committee, a fundraising team of volunteers committed to raising the funds to build the community center with public and private donations.
“If not now, when; if not me, who?” For some, this quote is dusted off every few years when trying to push an agenda or persuade a constituency. For Pat Martin, it’s a question she asks herself every time she sees a problem looking for a solution.
Pat has been a resident of Bethany since 1970. She holds a B.A. in English from UConn, a Master of Library Science from SCSU and a Master in Liberal Studies from Wesleyan University. She lives with her husband, Frank Pfeiffer, and their Labradoodle, Baxter, on Cheshire Road. Please join us in honoring her at the Annual Spaghetti Supper set for Saturday, April 29, 2017 at 6PM at Town Hall. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, $6 for children under the age of 12 and $25 for Patrons. You may purchase tickets in advance by calling Carol Goldberg on 203-393-0350 or at the door on the evening of the event.
¹ Wikipedia-English Speaking Union