Obituary — James Martin

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James (Jim) Martin, 87, of Ann Arbor, associate professor emeritus of environmental health sciences in the School of Public Health, died peacefully at home July 25, surrounded by his family and loving caregivers.

Jim grew up near Shelbyville, Tennessee, in a small rural area known as Poplins Crossroads. The values and work ethic he learned from his parents and neighbors in this tight-knit community grounded him, and he maintained close friendships with many of his classmates throughout his life.

James Martin
James Martin

Following high school, Jim enrolled in a local junior college on a whim, where he was introduced to his life’s passions — physics, nuclear energy and radiation protection. These interests led him on a remarkable path, and he would become integral in the nation’s transition from the use of atomic energy for nuclear weapons to its use in medicine and nuclear power.

In 1956, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics from Vanderbilt University and joined the U.S. Public Health Service, a decision he called pivotal for his life’s trajectory. His first assignments were to evaluate radioactive fallout clouds in Nevada as part of post-World War II nuclear weapons testing, and measuring radiation levels in the environment, food and water pathways of the South Pacific.

The Public Health Service directed Jim to the U-M School of Public Health where he received his Master of Public Health and Ph.D. degrees in 1965. While in Ann Arbor, he met the love of his life, Barbara Jane Warren, and they were married in November 1964.

Upon completion of his studies, they returned to the South Pacific and he directed the USPHS environmental radioactive laboratory in Honolulu, Hawaii, where they loved exploring the islands and called this time their extended honeymoon.

The USPHS sent them to Washington, D.C., where he helped launch the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Through an interagency assignment, he led the Colorado State Health Department’s efforts to create a hazardous-waste program.

In 1982, Jim returned to Ann Arbor to join the Department of Environmental Health Sciences faculty at the School of Public Health, where he shared his expertise in radiological health with a new generation of students.

In addition to his teaching, Jim published two books tailored for graduate education in radiation safety and continued to serve in leadership capacities at the state and federal levels. He chaired the state’s Toxic Substance Control Commission, and served on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advisory Committee on Nuclear Facility Safety.

Jim was a warm and kind, happy and easygoing man. He was quiet and modest. He loved skiing in the Rocky Mountains, Arnold Palmer drinks after a round of golf at Radrick Farms, long naps, comics, peach pie, German chocolate cake and reading.

He was happiest spending time with Barbara, his beloved wife of 58 years. He was measured in his approach to life’s ups and downs and often said, “stay loose” when he was saying goodbye.

Known as “papa” by his caregivers, in his later years he enjoyed reading his memoir and reflecting on his life. He felt enormous gratitude for all his experiences and what he called his “American Dream.”

Jim is survived by his wife, Barbara; his brother, Charles (Faye) Martin; daughter, Jenifer Martin (Mark Fendrick); and “step-grands” Alison, Joshua, Daniel and Claire Fendrick. He was preceded in death by his parents, Frank and Virginia Martin; his sister, JoAnne Martin Burkhart; and many friends and colleagues.

Memorial contributions may be made to the James E. and Barbara W. Martin Scholarship Fund at the School of Public Health.

Submitted by the School of Public Health

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