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Rev. Joseph Martin, S.S.

Born: October 12, 1924

Ordained: May 22, 1948

Died: March 9, 2009

The Rev. Joseph C. Martin, a recovering alcoholic and an international leader in the fight against alcoholism and substance abuse who was a co-founder of Father Martin's Ashley, a Harford County treatment center, died early Monday, March 9, 2009, of heart disease at his Havre de Grace, Md., home. He was 84.

Martin's "Chalk Talk on Alcohol" and "No Laughing Matter" have become standard tools used by recovery centers, schools and employee assistance programs the world over. "Father Martin is an icon in the treatment industry and was one of the first to describe alcoholism in layman's as a disease," said Mark Hushen, president and chief executive of Father Martin's Ashley, located near Havre de Grace. Mike Gimbel, a substance-abuse expert who was Baltimore County drug czar for 23 years and now directs an anti-steroid program at St. Joseph Medical Center, said, "Father Martin has done more to educate and treat those suffering from addiction than anyone in the past 50 years."

Born in Baltimore, the son of a machinist who was a heavy drinker, Martin was ordained a priest of the Society of St. Sulpice.

He began drinking while he held teaching positions at St. Joseph's College in Mountain View from 1948 to 1956, and later at St. Charles Seminary in Catonsville from 1956 to 1959. "It never occurred to me that perhaps there was something odd about a priest walking toward a garbage dump in the middle of the afternoon carrying two suitcases of clanking bottles," he told The Sun in an interview last year. Finally, the Archdiocese of Baltimore sent Father Martin to Guest House, a Michigan treatment center for the clergy, to get sober. By the time he left Guest House, he had regained his sobriety and found what would become his life's work.

During the 1960s, he began presenting his program at AA meetings, rehab centers and private businesses. In 1972, his "Chalk Talk" lecture was filmed by the Navy and later was picked up by the other armed forces where it was used as mandatory addiction training for service personnel. artin and his blackboard lecture were in demand all over the world, which gave rise to his crack: "Have chalk. Will travel."

Lora Mae Abraham, a recovering alcoholic, became Martin's close friend and suggested in 1978 that Father Martin establish a center where alcoholics could come for treatment. After seven years of fund raising they acquired Oakington, the former estate of U.S. Sen. Millard Tydings overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. The 22-bed facility opened in 1983 and was named Ashley for Abraham's father, the Rev. Arthur Ashley.

The Rev. Leonard Dahl, a Presbyterian clergyman, stepped down two years ago as president and chief executive at Ashley. "He also took me to my first AA meeting, and I recently celebrated 36 years of sobriety," Dahl said of Martin. "He believed that alcoholism was his cross and hymn to carry, and he was never bitter about the disease."

Martin, who liked to say, "Give me a blackboard, a piece of chalk and a bunch of drunks and I'm at home," always greeted new arrivals with a hopeful welcome: "The nightmare is over."

Martin also made sure that no one was turned away because of their inability to pay for treatment that can cost $20,800 for the 28-day program. In the more than 30 years since Father Martin's Ashley accepted its first patient, more than 30,000 people have been treated. After retiring from active management in 2003, Martin continued lecturing patients until late last year.

Michael Deaver, former White House chief of staff during the Reagan administration, had been a patient and later served on Ashley's board for a decade. "When I came to Ashley, I had been with presidents, kings, popes and prime ministers, but Father Martin was the most powerful person I had ever met," Deaver said. "You see, Father has the power to change people, to make them better, to make them whole again."

Martin is survived by a brother, Edward Martin of Lilburn, Ga.; two sisters, Frances Osborne and Dorothy Christopher, both of Baltimore; Abraham and her husband, Tommy Abraham, with whom he lived for 30 years; and many nieces and nephews.

Source: The Washington Post


This photograph of Father Martin was taken at the 1950s in his office at Saint Joseph's College.

(Photo credit: Trying to locate)