Don Martin, M.D., served his Sonoma patients for more than 50 years and now the Lights of Remembrance tree on the Plaza will twinkle brightly in his honor. This Sunday, Dec. 8, at 6 p.m., his family, friends and those he healed will attend the Hospice By The Bay tree lighting ceremony, and as the tree shines in the night sky they will recall what a blazing beacon he was to all who knew him.
Don Martin opened his family medicine office in the early 1960s in Boyes Hot Springs, and was a central figure in the community. He sold his practice in 1999, but, rather than retiring, immediately went to work as the medical director of Sonoma Community Health Center where he worked what he called part time – only 35 hours a week.
He spoke fluent Spanish and, “He was very, very honored and respected by the Latino community,” his daughter Julie McClelland said.
Don Martin was 85 when he died last September of pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed only three weeks before his death, and was working at the health center and riding his bike, swimming or rollerblading for an hour-and-a-half a day, up until that time. For years he would ride his bike to Sonoma Valley Hospital, and regularly rode up to Lovall Valley Loop, crashing more than once as he whizzed back down Lovall Valley Road. “He had a daredevil streak,” McClelland said, “He broke his collar bone multiple times and many ribs.”
“My father wasn’t big on recognition,” his daughter Millie McKibbin said, “But he thought so highly of hospice that he’d be delighted about the tree. He was such an advocate of hospice.” Because Don Martin was ill a mercifully short time, he received hospice care only briefly, although his wife of 50 years, Mary, had a long battle with cancer.
Don Martin took care of her and was very grateful for the support he received from hospice before she died in 2006. Don Martin was very knowledgeable about the palliative care hospice provides, and referred many of his patients to excellent end-of-life care from Hospice By The Bay.
Don Martin’s son, Bennett Martin, joked that if his father, never one for the limelight, knew they were lighting the tree in his memory “He’d say ‘Forget it’,” and then on second thought added, “He would be honored. Because of his profession, he would be pleased. And my wife and I have a very dear spot for hospice.”
Don Martin was a captain in the Air Force and, from 1959 to 1961, served as the physician at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. There was a picture taken during that time of Millie sitting on a swing in a park in Moscow that was long displayed in the Martin home. Several years ago, Don, Bennett and his grandson, Mason, took a trip to Moscow.
They searched for the park, and took a new photo at the swing set of Don, Bennett and Mason. “It was the most inspirational trip,” Bennett Martin said. “He was such a great father and grandfather.”
Don Martin was the father of four and had nine grandchildren.
Don Martin also spoke Russian and Chinese, and loved to travel. “He was deeply curious about the world,” his son Reed Martin said. He made many mission trips to care for the underprivileged with both the Christian Medical Society and Doctors without Borders, serving throughout Latin America and once in Cambodia. When he was 75, he made the rigorous hike to the top of Machu Picchu in Peru.
When he was 80, he volunteered to be the physician at a Young Life summer camp for teenagers in Canada. Don Martin was a mentor at the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, and when he learned he was ill he was concerned for his mentee. He had been the boy’s mentor since fourth grade and asked his son Bennett Martin to take over the mentor role for him.
“He’s 17 now and he’s a great kid,” Bennett Martin said. The mentee asked Bennett Martin to play chess with him because he used to play with his father. This surprised Bennett Martin, who said he didn’t even know his father played chess and was told by the mentee, “He was really good at it.”
Don Martin was a man of many talents and skills, and a compassionate doctor. As the hospice tree shines throughout the holiday season, many will recall what a light he was in their lives.
This will be the 28th annual Lights of Remembrance community gathering, when everyone is encouraged to remember those they’ve lost and to see the tree lights as a shining gift. The program includes inspiring messages, candle lighting, music and reflection. Hot chocolate will be provided by Starbucks.
The Martin family will light the tree on the southwest corner of the Plaza. To sponsor a tribute light in memory of a loved one, call 415-526-5500, or download the form at Hospicebythebay.org.