I got word this week that my dear friend, Reginald Martin, passed away, Friday, 7/27/18 in Memphis, Tennessee.
I learned last year that he had stage 4 cancer that had advanced to his brain and was in hospice. I visited him for 4 days last October and was profoundly affected by his condition. He was a brilliant, accomplished professor and writer. He published books on theory, poetry collections and novels. I reviewed his novel, "Everybody Knows What Time it is, but Nobody Can Stop the Clock." My review's on Amazon. During our correspondence he shared with me a screenplay he was working on that was adapted from the novel. He had dreams of retirement to a farm in Mississippi. He had Olympic dreams as a boxer leading up to the 1976 games that were smashed by a bout he had with a convict who berated his mother. Reggie suffered injuries that plagued him the rest of his life.
His academic excellence netted him a full scholarship at Boston University where we met in his senior year. He continued with his studies, eventually earning an MFA and a PhD, working in many schools as an educator and writer. Memphis was always his home, so he leapt at the prospect of a position at Memphis State University which is now known as the University of Memphis. I guess the call of his grandparents' home, where he grew up, was too strong for him to sink his roots elsewhere. I remember walking through his home while surveying his myriad professional awards and being tremendously impressed by his accomplishments.
I never knew about Reggie's boxing aspirations during the times we spent together, both during and after his graduation. When we rekindled our relationship in early 2016, I learned then. I guess it made sense because even though I could beat the rest of our dorm floor at ping pong, Reggie always won.
I'll always be grateful for the reading and book signing he sponsored for me in October 2016. In the time we spent together I learned about his Olympic aspirations and how the beating he'd received from that convict had changed his life.
He was a night owl who loved scotch, jazz and cigars, not necessarily in that order. He still lived in the home I'd visited him in so many years ago, but he'd gutted the interior and created what I can only regard as a swinging bachelor pad. He married once, but divorced, preferring to remain single. He wasn't a man to be lorded over and keeping his independence was paramount.
Shortly after my visit, his cancer was discovered and began to be treated. But as his brother, Bobby, told me, he was stubborn and insisted on living his life his way, so he eschewed treatment as the cancer advanced, landing him in hospice because he refused to be treated for the disease.
One of the things that struck me about his home was the massive shower he'd installed to care for his mother during her last days. I showered in it and thought about the kindness and care he'd shown his dying mother. As I had recently lost my own mother, I shared his regret and sorrow over the long time of suffering both his mother and mine experienced. Ironically we both agreed in the virtue of a quick death. That was not to be Reggie's fate as he lingered long and not living anywhere near, I can only imagine that it was also hard.
I remember the breakfast we shared at the Memphis Airport before I flew back to LA, and how he told me about how his grandfather encouraged him to give back. Reggie's way of giving back was to quietly teach classes of young convicts at a nearby prison. This was his Sunday School, his devotion to those who'd made all the wrong decisions in life. He told me he'd gotten through to a few and how some had found their way to a productive life. I was impressed, but he didn't seem to be so. I guess, like most of us, he was concerned about those he'd failed to get through to, but that's a story better left to him to tell.
One thing he told me more than once was that the convict who'd ended his Olympic dreams visited him in his office years later at Memphis State and apologized for how he'd berated his mother and badly beaten him so many years before. It's well and just that he did, because Reggie never expressed any animus to anyone that I ever detected. I can only suppose that the man had regretted what he'd done and needed to apologize to make it right in his soul.
When I think back and reflect on Reggie's life, I realize what an unconventional man he was. He was fiercely independent and danced to the music he heard, and heard alone. He was a brilliant conversationalist and not given to acrimony. His approach to debate was, "That's interesting. Have you thought about this?"
After visiting to do the reading he set up, I based a character in a novel on my observations of him. After visiting him in hospice while writing a novel about a washed up boxer, I created a character that had cancer, like him, but I had the character play a vibrant role, that Reggie, sadly couldn't fulfill.
I was surprised how long he endured after how he appeared in October 2017, but I guess that was him, realizing life was fading, but holding on until the last.
I'm only one of what must be a vast number of people who knew, valued and loved him for his intelligence, generosity and great humor. I continue to pray for him and those left in the wake of his passing. His presence in our lives brought a welcome bit of levity and a fierce spark of intelligence. The world has become a little smaller without him.