Letter: Martel remembered as stubborn optimist
In his groundbreaking book "Bowling Alone" (2000), Robert Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, and neighbors. Drawing on nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century he finds we "sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often."
Putnam never interviewed Bruce Joseph Martel. We weren't sure exactly where the church was where his memorial service took place on Friday. We figured we were close when we saw cars parked on both sides of the highway, and hundreds of people walking together to the service. He distinguished himself in the way he lived, and the values he stood for. Bruce was a decorated veteran of the United States Navy during the Vietnam Era. He served as a former selectman of Pownal, the vice commander of American Legion Pownal Post 90, a former member of the Pownal Center Fire Department from 1968-1982, and the recipient of the Vermont State Fire Fighters Rescue/Ambulance Person of the year award in 1991.
Thirty-six years ago my family and I fell in love with a house and forest land on a mountain ridge in Pownal. I had no skills, no experience and no knowledge of the woods or Mother Nature's unyielding protocol for survival. The good Lord figured this sojourn was not going to end well, so the Lord sent Bruce. He did not spend all of his time rescuing me, but it seemed that way. He always came. The problems were in my mind unsolvable, unfathomable, and full of dangerous solutions. Bruce never saw any of them that way; they were challenges to be met. He was pathologically optimistic and stubborn. He never gave up. Even when I hoped he would.
At his 75th birthday celebration I admitted that I learned more from Bruce about leading large hospital systems over nearly four decades than anything else — how he looked for solutions, treated others, never gave up on anything, and why he was such a respected leader. He always showed what Carl Rogers required of therapists: an unconditional positive regard for those he served, and empathic understanding. Always. Bruce simply defined community. In the Talmud we find these words: "whoever saves a life it is considered as if he saved an entire world." Bruce, then, must have saved an entire universe.
William D. Neigher,
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.