02 December 2008

In Memory of Roger Martin

My friend Roger Martin died last week. I will let the Daily Astorian tell you all about it.

Astoria Florist owner dies in fire

The Daily Astorian

Authorities believe the body found in the wreckage of the fire likely was Astoria Florist owner Roger Martin.

Martin was known for his role as Captain Jack in "Shanghaied in Astoria."

Born and raised in Astoria, Martin was a longtime member of the Astor Street Opry Company and beloved by fellow thespians, who revered his flair for burlesque theater. He played Shanghaied's Captain Jack for 15 years, along with other eclectic characters in olio acts.

"Roger was vaudeville," said Judy Niland, ASOC's managing director. "There's nobody who does vaudeville olio acts like Roger Martin."

Niland said she considers Martin to be a member of her family.

"He's a fixture around Astoria, and a fixture in the Opry Company," she said. "He's part of our board and our lifeblood as long as I've known him. There's nobody like Roger. He was a good friend."

Martin was scheduled to perform a role in ASOC's upcoming "Scrooged in Astoria" production.

ChrisLynn Taylor, another longtime member of the Opry Company and a friend of Martin's, said she last saw him Wednesday night.

"It's just horrifying," she said. "I can't imagine life without him."

Taylor said she admired his devotion to his Shanghaied character of Captain Jack.

"He took over part of Captain Jack and made it his," she said. "It was kind of like Captain Jack was Roger and Roger was Captain Jack. They became one."

For years, Martin helped his mother, Dorothy Martin, run Astoria Florist on Commercial Street. When she died, he took over the family business. But hard times recently forced him to shutter the historic flower shop short of its 100-year anniversary. He was living above the shop when he died in the fire.

"He did the best he could in this changing climate to try to make it work, and between the Internet and competition he just couldn't keep it going," Niland said. "He was trying desperately to keep the doors open to make it 100 years so he could make his mark in Astoria. I hope people realize he did make his mark in Astoria."

I penned the following for a memorial service, and then decided to submit it to the Daily A as a letter to the editor / tribute:

Dear Editor,

Roger Martin was my friend.

I knew Roger through my years in the Astor Street Opry Company. It was my privilege to serve as "lead writer" and director of the Company's Christmas show, Holiday Music Magic, for three years, and so I worked closely with Roger.

Roger was truly a florist when it came to comedy and theater. Think of it this way: you can go to Costco and get a bunch of roses, but it is not a bouquet. A bouquet is roses, and baby's breath, and all sorts of other decorative plants artfully arranged. In the same way, Roger would take the bare bones of an idea, or the destination his director wanted to get his character to, and he would overlay it with voice and facial expression, and a quirky idea or two ... and that crazy counter-timing that he worked so hard to perfect ... and by the time he was done with it, a genuine comic moment most often emerged.

I have a favorite moment of many featuring Roger. I approached him in the summer during Shanghaied run, and asked if he was planning to be in the Christmas show, because I had a special role for him to play. He looked at me with all seriousness, and maybe just a little sense of sadness-hopefully acting-and said,"Well, I could be in your Christmas show, or I could be in somebody else's Christmas show, or I would have to do my own Christmas show, because, yeah, I'd like to be in a Christmas show." I told him that he had to keep the secret, but what I had in mind was for him to play fellow actor LaMar Blackner in the future. Roger looked at me, grinned, and began to bounce up and down, his belly shaking like Santa Claus at the prospect. And of course he played the part brilliantly.

I know that Roger struggled with his own demons, and I will not dishonor all of who he was by suggesting that he was perfect, but I never saw those demons get the better of him in any dealing with any person. Roger was kind.

I do not know what happened Thanksgiving night, and no one but God can truly speak of a man's character or faith. But there are some things I do know. Roger Martin was my friend, and, even in his death, his life is a cause for thanksgiving. Roger is now free from whatever demons haunted him in life. Now he sleeps in the arms of One loved him enough to die for him; one who judges us according to our faith, not our works or misdeeds. And that One promises that when he has gathered us into his hand, no one can snatch us away from him.

Roger Martin was my friend. May his memory be a blessing among us.


Tony Stoutenburg

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