Martha Treadwell Hamblin (1952 - 2015)

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    - Jane Prince
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    - Julie Swan
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ITHACA, N.Y. - Martha Treadwell Hamblin, of Ithaca, N.Y. died at Hospice on Mar. 15, 2015, of ocular melanoma. She was a research scientist in plant breeding at Cornell University since 2002, and an involved citizen of Ithaca since 1981.

She was born in Newburyport, Mass. on Nov. 16, 1952, the middle daughter of Edward W. and Becky Boynton (Brown) Hamblin. She grew up in Sudbury, Mass. and Peterborough. Starting at a young age, she was an uncompromising person. She was an accomplished knitter and seamstress by the age of 10, and excelled at math and languages.

In 1970, Martha was a member of the final class to graduate from the former Peterborough High School. She received an undergraduate degree in Botany and Classics from Kirkland College, a Master's Degree in Botany from Oregon State, and a PhD from Cornell.

By the time she moved to Ithaca in 1981, Martha had embraced alternative living. She bought her clothes at thrift shops and rummage sales, and traveled most places by bicycle or on foot. She joined the War Tax Resistance movement, ran the cashier training program at GreenStar Cooperative, and served as GreenStar's representative to the Alternatives Fund.

In the 1990s, Martha's focus turned to academics while she worked on her PhD in Population Genetics of fruit flies. During this period, she met John T. Lis, Professor of Molecular Genetics, who later become her husband. After receiving her doctorate from Cornell, Martha did post-doctoral work in Chicago and France before returning to Ithaca to work as a research scientist in plant breeding. At the Institute for Genomic Diversity, she did foundational work on the molecular population genetics of sorghum.

In 2011 she was recruited to the NextGen Cassava program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Martha essentially wrote and shepherded to approval a $25 million proposal to research genomic selection to improve cassava - a vital staple food for millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. Even after receiving her diagnosis, she kept involved in the project's scientific work, as well as kept tabs on essentially all of its components, ensuring that nothing fell between the cracks. Her impact on this important project will be felt for a long time to come.

During all the years Martha worked as a scientist and mentored graduate students, she remained an engaged citizen and volunteer. She was Chair of the Ithaca Third Ward Democratic Committee from 2002 to 2006. She served on the Board of the Ithaca League of Women Voters and the City Federation of Women's Organizations.

Martha loved music and dance. She enjoyed playing recorder and fiddle, and sang in various choruses, choirs, and Sacred Harp groups over the years. She was especially fond of the early American hymns of William Billings. In the 1980s, she was a regular on the Ithaca contra dance scene. Recently, she became a superfan of the Trumansburg band, Toivo.

As she neared the end of her life, Martha donated her savings to humanitarian and cultural organizations. Her largest gift was to the Community School of Music and Arts, to help restore the grand performance hall in their downtown Ithaca building. Last fall, the C.S.M.A. named the space the Martha Hamblin Hall.

Martha leaves her husband, John T. Lis of Ithaca, her parents, Edward and Becky Hamblin of Scarborough, Maine, and her sisters, Penelope Hamblin of Newport News, Va., and Rebecca Hamblin of Minneapolis, Minn. The love and support of her many wonderful friends were a great comfort during her final illness. A private burial was held at Greensprings Natural Cemetery in Newfield, N.Y. A memorial service will be held in Ithaca in the spring at a date to be announced. In place of flowers, the family suggests a memorial donation to the Community School of Music and Arts,, or Hospicare,

Published in The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript on Mar. 24, 2015
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