Few people knew more about the history of Portadown – or were more proud to be part of it - than Bertie Martin who died last week, peacefully at home, surrounded by his family.
Bertie, who was 93, lived at Margretta Park, and had been in failing health for some time. But he lived life to the full right to the end, and left a real impression on the town where he spent every year of his productive life.
He was best known for the business that he and his younger brother Harold ran from 1940 until 1987 – B&H Martin’s Gents Outfitters (Woodhouse Street) - which they sold to Tom Morrow’s at that stage. It was truly the end of a trading era, as the family had run a clothing business there for three generations.
Bertie and Harold spent their early years living above the shop, the business having been founded by their grandfather John Woods in 1868, after he returned from a spell in America.
Bertie’s pride in Woodhouse Street is reflected in a superb history he penned for Jim Lyttle ‘Portadown Photos’ website and is brilliantly researched and written. It records many family businesses that set up in the street and notes that Roger Casement, the Irish Independence icon, once stayed overnight in a hostelry in the street!
Bertie’s mother took over the business when John Woods died and it was eventually left to the brothers, who concentrated on the men’s and boys’ trade, especially school uniforms in the long term.
A large proportion of business emanated from the farming community, and the Martins recalled that farmers’ wives did most of the buying for their husbands. Bertie’s oft-told stories surrounded a cat that wandered in one day and gave birth to a litter of kitten in a waste basket, and the harrowing tale of a man who literally dropped dead in the shop as he purchased a suit.
Bertie was especially proud that Woodhouse Street accommodated a wide range of businesses across the community, and that they were moulded into one “big happy family who helped one another almost daily”.
Another cherished story was that the late Fred Nesbitt, who ran a clothing factory, supplied B&H Martin’s during the difficult years of World War Two and rationing, adding that – without Fred’s help – the business would probably have gone under.
Bertie Martin left school (Thomas Street Public Elementary) at the age of 14, to help run the family business and was later joined by Harold in their legendary partnership. A proud boast was that, over the years, their mother led a dress-making department, and – allied to the men’s trade - they supplied everything from First Communion dress to the Catholic community, and Orange sashes, white gloves and suits to the Orange community.
Bertie loved the trade, but most of all he loved his family. In 1959, he married the former Mona Kennedy (ex-teacher at the Hart Memorial) at Thomas Street Methodist. They have a daughter Lynne McCausland (manager at Gordon’s Chemist), son-in-law Alec, and grandchildren Amy, Sam and Lucy, whom “Grandpa Ber” adored. They and Harold will all greatly miss him.
Outside family and work, Bertie Martin had many pursuits, mainly aimed at serving his beloved Portadown. In his younger days, he was very keen on amateur dramatics, and again this was reflected on Jim Lyttle’s website where he wrote with great enthusiasm on Portadown Drama Circle, in which he was a vital component.
Again, he was proud it was cross-community. It included local icons like Gerry McCreesh, Eric Anderson, Denys Hawthorne, Dan McAreavey, Harry Foy, Doris Robb… And they staged plays like ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’, ‘Ten Little Indians’ and ‘Antigone’.
He was also something of a wine connoisseur, being a member of the Sunday Times Wine Club, and taking Mona on trips to Italy and France where he especially liked red wine vintages - and they loved to try out new restaurants and gourmet dishes. And Bertie and Harold – who was his best friend as well as his brother – often enjoyed going to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. They never exchanged a cross word throughout their joint careers.
Bertie Martin’s best-known community activity, though, was in the Rotary Movement. He served Portadown Rotary Club with great distinction, mainly as secretary for more than two decades and as president in 1960. He was District Secretary of Ireland (District 116) when Rotarian Ambrose Elliott was Irish President in the late 1980s.
Said Ambrose, “It was great to have Bertie as secretary. He knew Rotary inside-out and was a great help. He was also a life-long personal friend and is a sad loss to Portadown in many ways.”
Bertie received the movement’s highest honour, the Paul Harris Award – with two Sapphires (the equivalent of ‘Bars’ in the military world) - and became a legend in local Rotary circles.
In latter years – staring in his 80s – he really took to the world of IT and the internet, with his laptop being his window on the world. And he was proud that he was able to track an American friend he had met in Belfast during the war. The man was renowned in the States as a mosaic artist and the two kept in touch.
The Martins were faithful members of Edenderry Memorial Methodist Church, and the funeral service was held there on Saturday where a large congregation attended. It was conducted by the Minister, Rev Aian Ferguson, by the District Governor of Rotary, and the coffin was draped in the Rotary Flag. Granddaughter Amy McCausland read the famous poem ‘Death is Nothing at All’.
Burial was at Kernan Cemetery and donations in lieu of flowers are to Edenderry Memorial Methodist Church, c/o Ian Milne and Sons, Funeral Directors, 59 Seagoe Road, Portadown.