A Mayor, a Commissioner and a Ref Walk into a Bar . . .
A Tribute to Jim Martin by Kathy Bedell, Leadville Today
It was just last Friday, the kick-off to Boom Days when I heard the news of his passing. I had walked into the Silver Dollar Salon, to catch up with the infamous Leadville Rock Club. Jim Martin was a member of this (mostly) drinking club, and it’s fitting that it is listed in his obituary.
So, when I saw Irene Witmer, owner of The Rock Hut, leading a shot toast with the group, I knew something more significant than Boom Days was happening.
“Jim Martin passed away an hour ago,” she turned and said as she raised her glass along with the other Rock Club members and threw back a shot of what I can only imagine was Irish whiskey in Martin’s honor.
I guess it’s a day that comes for all of us, but this one mattered a bit more, especially for Leadville. As a journalist, I thought back on all the sarcastic retorts I had made to Martin during the 8 years he had served as Leadville’s Mayor, and then 8 more as a Lake County Commissioner. And while I did not know him during his management years at Climax, he was one of the most effective, critical thinkers that local governments would see after the mine closed, and people scattered, leaving behind new politicians who weren’t always suited for office.
I remember asking Martin over a beer at the Dollar during a Rock Club meeting, what was tougher: being the Mayor of Leadville or Lake County Commissioner?
“Kathy, you know what the toughest job I’ve ever had in Leadville?” he asked as I leaned in to hear the answer, “Being a referee in Little League. Those parents were brutal! I couldn’t believe the things that they would say, so much worse than anything I ever heard in public office.”
Jim Martin went to the Colorado School of Mines and was an engineer at Climax, so you know he was smart, a real intellect. During one of our first meetings – again over beer at the Dollar – he put me through a mathematical test with a series of “add 2, divide by 1, less 57” kind-of-thing. He was clearly surprised when I was able to answer the two minute oral exam with the correct number. Passing that test activated some kind of shift in our relationship, allowing me to earn his respect, gaining easier access to the facts and the understanding needed to report complicated mining situations involving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In fact, the news of his passing not only left me sad, but a bit hopeless that we would ever see the EPA effectively extracted from our community. Martin was not afraid to play hard ball with the feds, maybe because he knew mining and its impact more than they did. He was not afraid to call them out in public meetings, fiercely defending Lake County’s need for economic development, which was unlikely to happen as the agency dug its heels even deeper with every Superfund declaration. And even though he never saw a complete delisting in his day, Martin has on the front lines in the beginning and was always prepared to fight the good fight for Leadville.
The last time I saw him was Boom Days, last year. I reminded him about all his secrets I was going to tell once he left this world. That the power was in my pen; people should know!