Remembering Gene Martin

A UCAR leader who traveled the globe for decades, laying the groundwork for atmospheric field projects, has passed from the scene. Gene Martin, director of JOSS, died on August 3 after a brief illness. Gene came to NCAR in 1978 and was a key member of JOSS’s staff for many years.

“Gene was well known to scientists throughout the UCAR community for his service and support to the community, “ says Jack Fellows, UCP director. “He will be greatly missed.”

Gene grew up in Sterling, Colorado, and held a degree from CU-Boulder in classical piano. He began his career as an administrative assistant to Walter Orr Roberts, NCAR’s first director. In 1982, Karyn Sawyer hired him to work in the International Program Office, the precursor to JOSS and one of UCP’s first programs.

Gene Martin standing in the water, holding a fish, and wearing fly flshing gear.
Gene enjoying one of his favorite pastimes. (Photo by Bob Wiley.)

“Together we built the office that became JOSS,” Karyn says. “We traveled all over the world together—Africa, India, China, South America, Europe. We were a great team and great friends.”

Karyn says that Gene was known for his ability to improvise and get difficult tasks accomplished, often in foreign destinations. “If he’d never done something before, you could ask him to do it and he’d go get it done, even in cultures that he wasn’t familiar with,” she says. “He was really dedicated to his job.”

Gene and Karyn liked to joke that they’d adopted each other as siblings, Karyn says, which meant that she got to experience his gregarious nature and sense of humor up close. “He called me at 3 a.m. once from Guam, yelling at me that there were tree snakes everywhere,” she recalls. “I told him to buy an umbrella and hung up the phone.”

Gene became JOSS deputy director and, when Karyn moved to EOL in 2005, assumed the director role. He was known among his staff and colleagues for being outgoing, straightforward, and funny.

“You always knew where you stood with Gene,” says Bob Wiley, UCAR’s occupational health and ergonomics program manager. “He was open, honest, direct, and had high expectations. He was very passionate and cared a lot about his staff.”

Bob met Gene on his first two weeks on the job at UCAR, about ten years ago. When Gene, an avid fly fisherman, learned that Bob had a small business designing lures, they became fishing partners. Bob recalls that the first time they went fishing, at Honholz Lakes in the Cache la Poudre area near where Gene had a cabin, the fishing started out slow. He attached one of his custom flies and the two ended up having a banner day, fishing until after dark. Still, it was Gene’s green chili at the cabin afterward that made the day.

“I told him that from now on I’m coming back for the green chili, not the fishing,” Bob says, adding that he and Gene fished every autumn after that.

Gene’s staff in JOSS especially enjoyed his sense of humor. They took to calling him “Cat Lady,” due to his love for his four cats, and produced digitally manipulated photos of him with the cats.

Chrystal Pene, who worked as Gene’s administrative assistant starting in 1997, recalls the time when a JOSS staff member hid a “flatulence machine” behind Gene’s computer. “We kept hitting the remote control from the other room and laughing,” she says. “Gene thought that the noise was coming from his phone.”

JOSS staff have erected a small shrine to Gene on the third floor of FLA. The display includes the infamous flatuence machine and a collection of gag gifts from Gene’s surprise 60th birthday party.

“He really looked out for his staff, making our jobs easier and more efficient,” Chrystal says. “He was a great boss and I’m really going to miss him.”

Contributions in Gene’s name are being accepted at the Wild Animal Sanctuary.