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Remembrance: David N. Martin


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Style Weekly featured a cover story about David Martin in March 1985.
  • Style Weekly featured a cover story about David Martin in March 1985.

David Martin never could sit still. He moved as if he were late, even if he was early. The rest of us walked — he darted.

We and our partner, agency President Mike Hughes, out of the country at this writing, were lucky enough to work closely with Dave during many of his 29 years at the Martin Agency. He launched at least five businesses, but the Martin Agency was the largest and most successful. Today it's regarded as one of the best advertising agencies in the country.

Dave was one of those people who leaned into life, a glass-half-full person with an exuberant imagination and the gift of sparkling expression. He had an uncommon physical presence. His voice was the oboe of voices, mellifluous and calming. It stood in contrast to the rest of his being, which vibrated with urgency.

He smoked a pipe until pipe smoking became an oddity. His pipe was alternately a baton, a sword, a pacifier. Halfway through a presentation to a client, he'd empty the bowl of his pipe by banging it against the inside of a wastebasket, ultimately setting the contents on fire. The nearest colleague, familiar with this drill, dutifully would rush the flaming container from the room. Dave would fuss with his pipe until a fresh, uncharred wastebasket was pressed into service.

He was a persuasive speaker, but not in a smooth, practiced way. He was unplanned, unpredictable and utterly without artifice. But had he chosen, he would have convinced you in his winning way that the moon was made of green cheese. "Green cheese," you would have said. "How did I not realize that?"

Dave was a humanist. He believed in people, in ideas and in creativity. He wrote novels and painted. In the 1960s and '70s, he gave his time to some 20 different civic groups in Richmond. He loved the work he did. He made the advertising business so appealing that his brother Steve and all four of his children have had careers in and around advertising.

He was, like all of us, imperfect. He had regrets. But his constant motion was forward.

He was a definitive man, but he was curious about ideas contrary to his own. Dave had the remarkable capacity to give himself over to change before he fully understood it. What he understood was that change has vitality.

The Martin Agency today is a very different place than when Dave darted down the halls. There is the glory and the obligation that comes with large client companies, 600 families and a global reputation. But remarkably, wonderfully, the simple ideas with which he began remain part of the foundation at 1 Shockoe Plaza and 71 Fifth Ave.: a belief that good people are the only people to work with, that surprising and magnetic advertising is the only kind worth doing, and that laughter should be part of one's professional credentials.

The evening before he died last week, he spoke quietly but with conviction to family members and friends about the things that were important to him. He said he wished for the young people at our company to remain true to themselves. "You've got to be kind," he said. "Remember that laughter is important." Then he smiled, first with his eyes, and said softly: "Good night, everyone. Good night."


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