A tribute to Lubbock Mayor Tom Martin … one of the greatest people I’ve ever known

Recently, the City of Lubbock lost one of our past leaders, and to me, one of the greatest people I’ve ever known.

I first met Tom Martin in 2006 when I was president of the College Republicans of Texas Tech. Despite the fact city elections are (supposedly) nonpartisan, I liked to invite area officeholders and candidates to come speak with the group, because South Plains politics are often ignored by Texas Tech students. The other candidate in that particular race had not fared well in front of the group. The next week, Tom arrived to speak to the group. He grabbed a slice of pizza, sat down in front of us, and said we may not agree with everything he’ll say, but he’ll explain why he believes the way he does. In a surprising twist, uncommon for a politician on any level, Tom was true to his word in that situation.

Tom didn’t win that election, but he ran again two years later and was elected mayor of Lubbock. I had been a reporter for KFYO radio for about a year when he was elected, and one of my first assignments after being put on the City Council beat was to cover Tom’s swearing in. During those years, I sat through countless meetings over city spending, presentations to children and citizens, and lots of strange citizen comments, including the potential dangers of cat vandalism near a proposed truck stop – I’m not making that up. During those years, I got to know Tom well, because I was usually bombarding him with questions about what was on the Council agenda, or getting clarification on why they were choosing to handle something a specific way.

Fortunately for me, and many young reporters in the media, Tom was a natural mentor and seemed to love every second of it. However, he did require a good faith effort, because if someone, whether it was a friend, mentee, or city employee, got in front of him without being prepared, the “Martinizing” session would begin. You would leave the situation better educated, but with far less ego than before.

In the 2012 mayoral election, Tom didn’t win. Traditionally, for a reason I haven’t quite hashed out yet, Lubbock does not keep mayors for more than two terms. In fact, only four Lubbock mayors have served more than two two-year terms out of 34 total since 1909, not counting the current mayor. Tom had his two terms, but desperately wanted to stay in to see the completion of the Lake Alan Henry water pipeline project he had championed for so long. I was standing next to him when he got the call from the Lubbock County Elections Office with the early vote totals, and it was clear he had lost. I saw him scribble the numbers down on a small spiral notepad he kept in his pocket, but was at a loss for words. All I could say was “I’m sorry, Tom,” and his response, in true understated Tom fashion, was “That’s showbiz.” He ground out his cigarette on the sidewalk with his shoe, turned, and walked back into his house.

Of course, the election isn’t the end. There are still more meetings, and ultimately the opening of the Council meeting for the swearing in of the new candidates, which falls to the outgoing mayor. I learned that day that Tom whistled when he was uncomfortable. He whistled a lot during the breaks that day. Tom opened the meeting, called it to recess, and quietly exited to allow the new mayor to take over.

From the very beginning, Tom took an interest in my success, and he was my pied piper. He was one of the main reasons I joined Mackenzie Masonic Lodge, the Scottish Rite, and the Lubbock Lions Club. I always went to him for advice on many things in my life because he always managed to look at things objectively and would give me his honest opinion, regardless of whether it was what I wanted to hear. He championed for me as well. When I was nearing the end of my final year in law school, there wasn’t a lawyer he knew who was safe from hearing about me and the fact that I needed a job.

“I’m an ideas man,” Tom said, when I took a friend who had gained a voracious appetite for Lubbock redevelopment to visit with him. “I just try to do what makes sense.” Tom was right, of course. He focused on ideas that weren’t necessarily flashy or sexy, but rather that would deliver lots of utility to the citizens of Lubbock, such as Milwaukee Avenue, or the pipeline project.

It wasn’t long after that we got word through the lodge that Tom’s doctor found spots on his lungs and liver in an x-ray. He was in constant pain from back problems that didn’t respond to surgery, and so he had just originally written off his new problems as a continuation of the old ones. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. He responded badly to the chemo, and it was clear he didn’t have long. He passed away in the early evening of March 27th of this year.

My friendship with Tom was not unique. He had taken an interest in many younger people throughout his lifetime, whether they were law enforcement, journalists, politicos, or just friends. I consider myself, and the City of Lubbock, very fortunate we had a great man like Tom Martin in our corner.