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Ramona Marie Martinez

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Ramona Marie Martinez Obituary
ETOWAH-Ramona Marie Martinez of Etowah, North Carolina died on July 27, 2015 from a Glioblastoma, a voracious brain tumor. She lived six months longer than her original prognosis due to aggressive medical care and her own tenacious will to live.
Ramona was born in Oakland, California to an Italian mother and a Mexican/American-Indian father. She was the second of three sisters that began life in the Projects of a tough city. After graduating from high School, she was invited to leave the home at 18 and given a used Corvair and $300 to make her way in the world. She found an apartment in the East Bay, put on her best dress and headed to San Francisco to knock on doors, presenting herself as a secretary and Administrative Assistant. Over the next 12 years, she managed to rise from one position to another capping off that phase of her career, as the Secretary to the President of Macy's West Coast.
Two of Ramona's greatest loves were animals and playing sports. In 1979 she met Michael Johnstone, an Architect while playing volleyball on the beaches of Alameda, California. After a two-way courtship of 8 months, which included volleyball, racquetball, trips to Napa Valley and San Simeon, running with dog pets in the Oakland Hills, exploring fine dining in San Francisco and Berkeley and a romantic trip to Montreal, They agreed to marry sitting in a car under the bridge next to Spengers Seafood Restaurant, an East Bay institution.
After settling into their first house and saving some money, Ramona quit the corporate world to pursue her passion for animals. She began working at a Veterinary Clinic to learn the ropes and then started her own pet sitting business, walking dogs, socializing puppies, visiting cats and dogs at home and occasionally staying at the client's house while they traveled. She was careful to screen perspective clients and their pets and over a 12-year period she built a clientele of over one hundred families that relied upon her to protect and care for their most prized possession. In the couple's fourth home in the Oakland Hills, an Eichler like home with concrete floors and dividable sections of the house, she began taking in doggie boarders, who were admitted only after a rigorous exam, trial two hour stay and with the approval of her two cats. The house became known as, "Camp Ramona" and her husband's architectural practice in the home took second billing.
In 1999, Michael was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Prostate Cancer and was given only 9 months to live. Without a mature Internet, providing any reliable medical information, Ramona went into high gear and asked every friend she knew about Prostate Cancer and if they had any contacts in that world. Her intuition and tenacity paid off when, one of her tennis teammates knew of a Clinical Trial for men with a terminal diagnosis and Michael was accepted into the trial one day before it closed. After 8 weeks, 6 of the 7 men in the trial had died, but Michael managed to survive. The experience caused the couple to reassess their lives and move from crazy expensive San Francisco Bay Area to WNC to be near two generous and caring couples and former pet sitting clients from Oakland, the Bryars and the Bolins. They would provide the friendship and support that Ramona would need when Michael died within a few years of arriving in WNC.
Shortly after arriving in Asheville and buying a home in Fletcher, Ramona applied to the Biltmore Estate for a position as a docent. She studied hard and even borrowed some of her husband's architectural history books to expand her knowledge of the architectural styles at the Estate. She was hired and began yet another career. She loved the job, being on the Estate, walking all day, dealing with the public and sharing her newfound knowledge. There she met a group of women with whom she became fast friends and after a few years of camaraderie and occasional social gatherings with and without husbands, they became known to one another as "The Biltmore Six". This amazing friendship has remained in tact and in her last days the Biltmore Six have visited her, provide solace, reminded her of old memories and simply been there for her. Bethann Harwood has been exceptional in her dedication to Ramona's welfare in her last days and leading a fund raising effort in Ramona's memory.
Through friends once again she joined the Central Office of the Buncombe School District and dusted off her administrative skills to assist the top administrators at the district. As she approached retirement she elected to take a major pay cut and work as a Teacher's Assistant in the Special Education Department. She had met students through her work with Paws with a Purpose, now Paws with a Mission, scheduling pet therapy visits in schools, hospitals and Eliada. She worked for two years before hip surgery and a general lack of adequate strength to handle children with possible dangerous behavior forced her to retire.
In retirement she returned to tennis, one of her loves, reading and occasional pet sitting. She finally had the time to read the books she had accumulated in recent years and call friends for coffee or lunch. She joined the local tennis team and found a new Coach in Terrell West and new friends on the Etowah Golf and Resort, Tennis Club. She was enjoying the life she had worked for over 40 years. She arranged a trip to the Loire Valley of France using the VRBO Internet site that had taken her to Paris and Venice with her husband and Susan Henseley a trusted friend from the Buncombe County Central Office. The trio had amazing visits to museums, restaurants, musical presentations and the street life of simple out of the way local neighborhoods. The Loire Valley trip was a quiet venture into the countryside of Central France with a Golf Course nearby in the middle of a Chateau. She had planned a quiet vacation with bicycles on country roads, golf for Monsieur and friendly personal wine and goat cheese tastings in the quiet countryside.
Upon return, life resumed with its normal pace. On a Saturday Ramona was playing competitive tennis at the Etowah Golf Club and Resort, where the couple now owned a small condominium. The very next morning she fell and could not get up without help. On that Monday Doctors found a mature tumor, which led immediately to a Craniotomy to relieve pressure. Over approximately a year and a half with the Help of the SECU Cancer Center in Asheville and the Robert Tisch Cancer Center at Duke in Durham, NC she endured every possible treatment available, with courage and defiant humor. She made dear friends in both clinics and charmed her Doctors. She remained at home as long as possible and the entered the Hendersonville Health and Rehabilitation Clinic. The nursing staff there were professional, personal and made her feel safe and at home.
As she wished, there will be no funeral or memorial service. Friends are planning a celebration of her life for the end of August, to be outdoors with people and their pets. Please send donations to Brother Wolf Animal Rescue in Asheville, NC. Funds will be used to name a Dog Suite after Ramona in the new 80 acre Sanctuary planned for Weaverville. Dollar for Dollar matching funds are available from Donald C. Jones Foundation up to $400,000 and will be credited toward her Dog Suite minimum of donation of $20,000. Please mail donations to: Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, PO Box 8195, Asheville, NC 28814, be sure to mention the Ramona Martinez Memorial Fund in the Memo line on the check or you can donate on their website: www.bwar.org and be sure to mention her Memorial in the comments section of the donation form. All donors will be notified of the time and location of The Ramona Martinez Life Celebration.
Condolences can be made to the family at www.ashevilleareaalternative.com
Published in The Times-News on Aug. 1, 2015
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