by Pete Talmadge

The Granbury Tablet – June 2, 1983

“His concern is the community”

A tall, stocky man in a somber dark suit stood before the receptionist’s desk. She was new; she didn’t recognize him. “The doctor is very busy this morning, Sir,” she said. “If you’ll give me your name, I’ll call when he’s ready for you.” “Elmer Fudpucker,” he said dryly, a ‘dare you to make something out of it’ look in his eye. The young lady noted the name without comment. The big man found a seat and a nearly new magazine and sat down to wait in the crowded room. Presently, the stokey patient’s name came up on rotation. The receptionist gripped the card firmly and said loudly: “Mr. Fudpucker, please.” The burly patient was engrossed in the magazine; he didn’t move a muscle. “Mr. Fudpucker,” she said, slightly louder. There was no response, unless you count a snicker or two from the other waiting patients. “Elmer Fudpucker!” her voice echoed down the hall and into the examining rooms. The big man batted not an eye. “Elmer Fudpucker!!” She fairly screamed the name. The doctor appeared, a flush at his cheeks. “That could only be George Martin.” Cocking a finger at the now grinning big man, he said, tiredly, “C’mon, George. Playtime is over.”

I had heard George Martin stories since the day I arrived in Granbury. This one happens to be true; most are not. Such as the one about the heavy set woman in the big hat and veil who did Martin’s business downtown during Centennial Week (1966), coincidentally, when Martin had refused to buy a shaving permit. Turns out that was another well-known Granbury citizen who will be exposed at a later date. But, the point is, the anecdotes told about the man seemed to conflict with the profession of George Martin, who is a mortician and funeral director with some thirty years in the business. So we decided to look into the Real George Martin.

He was in Pam’s Coffee Shop Tuesday morning, surrounded by men from every walk. He is wide-shouldered and well turned out in a dark pin stripe suit and white shirt with conservative tie. His dark hair is close clipped at the sides of his head; there is none on top. His face, behind the black, plastic glasses, is tanned, relaxed, clean shaven. His features are rubbery, affecting looks of concern, surprise, amusement and bright good humor with equal ease and amazing rapidity. Warmly, he invites me to join the early morning conversation. He is at once affable, attentive and eager to hear any new talk. I liked him immediately.

The conversation with Smitty, a cement contractor; E.A. Thomas, a man of the earth and Chuck Scott, car dealer, necessarily takes many turns, but always, the men find a way to include Martin in whatever is said. It is as though he is holding court, but there is no solemnity in the proceedings. Mention is made of a business deal gone sour for one of the breakfasters. The way he tells it, laughter is provoked. Martin is one of the laughers. His participation is appreciated. As they drift off to their jobs and the start of the new day, good-byes are called to him. George Martin, is it apparent, is congenial.

As early as the hour is, and as unexpected as my visit must be, Martin readily invites me to walk the quarter of a block to his office. He pushes through the double front doors of the Martin Funeral Home building, commanding the corner at 100 South Morgan, and we walk into the quiet world where George Martin sometimes works seven days a week. The carpets are thick, the colors are earth tone, the paintings on the walls are tasteful, pastoral scenes. The lighting is indirect, the furniture heavy and comfortable. The rooms are wide and functional. “When we built this building, people thought it might be too large,” he said. “Thought it was more than Granbury needed. But it’s not. We designed it to resemble a house. People find it a place of solace.”

He is at ease on a sofa. I notice that he doesn’t sit in the chair behind his desk, electing, rather, to maintain an informal, loose tone. We are having a continuation of the conversation that started over cups of coffee. Martin is sensitive, sensible, civil. I am curious about the stories people tell about him. “I am surprised by them,” he says. “I do enjoy light moments, but I haven’t done many of the things attributed to me.” “But you are in partnership with Groner Pitts, and he is reputed to be one of the funniest men in the State.” “He is,” Martin agrees, “but he operates out of Brownwood. We have little personal contact. I practically never go places with him.” “Weren’t you with him in Governor White’s Inaugural Parade?” “No,” he chuckles. “But I read about it in a George Dolan column,” I insist. “Groner’s hearse appeared in the motorcade. Just before it passed the reviewing stand, a sharp-eyed security man noticed it and shunted it off to the side.” There was an amused glint in his eye. “I read that column, too,” he said, “but I wasn’t present in Austin that day.”

I stared at him for a minute, my mind racing. “I know two or three funeral directors.” I said, at last, “Thinking about it, they all love warm and full senses of humor. Do you suppose that is a must for a person in your business?” He smiled openly: “I don’t know,” he said, sincerely. “That’s a hard question to answer. It might be so. But I don’t think this business requires any more sense of humor than any other. We are here to serve the community. We do our jobs as competently as possible, and we try only to serve.” “How long have you been a mortician?” “All my life. It’s all I know.” “Where did you go to school?” “I was born in a house right across the street,” he said. “Course, it’s not there now. And I went to school right here in Granbury.” “I meant,” I clarified, “what college did you attend?” “No college. My father died when I was fourteen. I started working at a furniture store downtown after school, and started working part-time for Terry’s Funeral Home. There were two undertakers then; Estes, downtown, and Terry, out in this part of town.” “After high school, I went to the Dallas Institute of Mortuary Sciences. Then I worked in other cities for about twelve years. Grand Prairie, San Angelo…” “What brought you back to Granbury?” “In about 1964, Zeta and I could see the growth starting in Lake Country, and we wanted to serve this community. I worked with Terry for about three years, then Groner and I bought him out. We built this facility in 1968.” “You use the word ‘serve’ regularly. Is that how you see your business – as a service to the people who come to you?” “Yes. We try to ease the family through a time of bereavement — a very difficult time for all of us.” “That’s why I asked about your college. Where did you learn the psychology you apply when working with clients?” His smile was one almost of embarrassment. “I don’t use any psychology – at least not knowingly. I just react in the best way I know how to the needs of the people who come to us.”

His hands are manicured, the rather short fingers fine and sensitive. They remain relaxed on the arm of the sofa, betraying no stress. He is totally open, his manner completely without guile or subtrafuge. I decide to try a different tact to pry the man open. “You were a member of the School Board?” I tested. “No. Nor the City Council, either.” “Why not? Isn’t that a form of community service?” “I feel I can serve best doing what I know best. In the beginning – and until recently – I was liable to be here at the funeral home any day, any hour. Besides, I try to avoid controversies.” “You are a past president of the Chamber of Commerce,” I said. “A couple of times, but that isn’t controversial. Or it wasn’t. What I mean by avoiding controversy is to stay out of issues where people choose up sides. When a family comes to me for my services, I don’t want there to be any hard feelings over some issue that is irrelevant at a time of need.”

He is the logic of a clinical physician. Or a schooled politician. I can find no fault in it. I fired a tough question at him: “What do you feel about death?” “Oh, my,” he said. “I don’t think I can really answer that. Can anyone? It comes to all of us. And it’s hard to take when it’s a member of your own family. I don’t think I could really put what I feel about it into words. I just try to help those affected deal the grief.” “If a close friend of yours were to be taken, would you assign the direction of his services to one of your staff?” “No. I would want to be certain everything possible was done to make the family comfortable. The services are, after all, really for the family, the loves ones and friends, aren’t they?” “Do you find that families ask for you, specifically, to officiate?” “I have a very fine and sensitive staff in each of our facilities; here in Granbury, at Cleburne, Glen Rose, and Lipan. When one of our places needs help, we borrow people from a facility that isn’t busy. I like to believe that each one of us maintains the same decorum and respect for the situation. It’s part of the guidelines of the organization. What usually happens is, a family calls upon us say, fourteen years ago. When next they call upon us, they ask for the director who served them that first time. When a family is in need, it’s no time to experiment with someone new, and we always aceed to a family’s wishes.” ” A service is a very sensitive thing,” I said. “What preparations do you make to insure that everything is going smoothly?” “You could compare it to a wedding,” Martin replied, “where there is a rehearsal – three or four rehearsals if they feel them necessary. With us, we have to do everything right the first time. We don’t permit things to go wrong. We owe that to the family, and we take our responsibility very seriously.” “What happens when more people, many more people, than you expect, attend a service?” “We keep ourselves ready for that contingency. Our chapel holds 350. Have you ever seen it?”

We stand in the quiet, simple, but spacious chapel. The vaulted ceilings make me think of the heavens. The comfortable pews and unpretentious podium are elegant in their understatement. “It’s beautiful.” I said. “Zeta and I designed it. At first it wasn’t well accepted, people used every church in town. Now, nearly every family asks to use our non-denominational chapel.” “Do you serve people of all faiths?” “Certainly. We turn no one away. That’s always been our method. Any family needing us can count on us.”

I came looking for a funseeker. I found a truly sensitive and warm man. Oh. There is one story they tell about George that is true: In April, city celebrities were asked to help sell potted crepe myrtles. They were spindly things without leaves in small containers. George preyed on tourists whose cars had out of state license plates. “Do you have yellow?” one would ask. “Think so,” George would reply, looking the truckload of plants that would all grow up to be red ones – no exceptions. “Here’s a yellow one here.” “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” All over the country there are people with yellow crepe myrtles, white ones, orange ones, plants of every hue – but they’ll all look red. “Anyway,” George muses, “they will all remember Granbury.”

Anyone who ever meets George Martin will always remember him. He is a very special citizen, serving his community in a tender and unique way.

George Lynn Martin was born January 21, 1935 and died July 26, 1991 at the age of 56 from cancer. George was buried in Holly Hills Memorial Park, which he founded, just north of Granbury in Hood County, Texas.

George was the great-grandson of William Thomas Sellars, one of Hood County’s military veterans of the Civil War.

Additional information provided by W. Cody Martin, nephew of George Martin, who remembers his Uncle George as “a character and a fine man.”