Joe Martin
Even after Lou Gehrig's disease robbed his ability to speak, Joe Martin became an outspoken voice for tolerance.

The former bank executive, who died Saturday, worked behind the scenes to mold Charlotte's future. But once he was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), he took his causes public.

He urged people of different races to go to lunch. He chastised officials he thought were intolerant of gays. Facing his disease, he became a symbol of hope.

Martin, 65, died at his family's Lake Norman home. The cause was respiratory difficulties from a pulmonary embolism, said his brother, former N.C. Gov. Jim Martin.

"To me, Joe would rank as one of the great citizens of our community over any time frame," retired Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr., Martin's former boss and longtime friend, said Saturday. "He was a great example for all of us for doing the right thing."

Joe Bacon Martin III learned social justice early. He and three brothers grew up in Winnsboro, S.C., where their convictions were shaped by their Presbyterian minister father, the Rev. Arthur Martin, and mother, Mary Martin.

The Rev. Martin preached racial equality when it was unpopular and often dangerous.

At Davidson College, Martin was a cheerleader and pushed the school for a mascot -- a live wildcat -- which he found. As a student leader, he constantly questioned the practice of segregation. In 1962, the college enrolled its first black student, who was from Zaire. Martin had graduated, but was working at the college. He roomed with the student to make him feel welcome.

After a master's degree in American studies at the University of Minnesota, Martin earned a doctorate in medieval English at Duke.

But academia wasn't in his future.

In 1973, he joined a Charlotte bank called NCNB and became one of the platoon of visionaries that eventually built the company into Bank of America.

The bank pledged Martin's time and $3 million to rebuild uptown Charlotte's Fourth Ward, once an affluent quadrant that had fallen on hard times. From that project, Martin helped form the bank's Community Development Corp., which launched an aggressive plan to revitalize uptown and other center cities.

"He passionately believed the bank could be used to make the world a better place," Dennis Rash, then head of the development arm, said in 2001.

Martin left banking in 1978 to raise money and head the college relations department at Queens College (now Queens University of Charlotte). Five years later, McColl was named CEO of the bank and lured Martin back.

Martin became McColl's top adviser and "idea man." McColl often called Martin the bank's conscience.

Martin constantly looked for ways to use the bank's money to improve communities the bank served.

Once when a junior college in Rock Hill needed money to get accredited, Martin got the bank to give it to the school. When Livingstone College in Salisbury wanted to build a student life center, Martin again got the bank to foot the bill.

As a school board member in the 1980s, he hatched an idea that became the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Educational Foundation. He and his wife, Joan, sent their three children to public schools.

He got the bank to put up $500,000 for information about the burning of black churches that plagued the South in the late 1990s. He pushed McColl and others to hire minorities.

And in dozens of cities in the Carolinas and beyond where the bank does business, there are educational and housing programs that help the poor bearing Martin's influence and sense of justice. ImaginOn, the children's theater center and library, is named after Martin and his wife.

"There are a lot of things in the Carolinas that wouldn't have stood a chance if not for Joe Martin," George Battle, an AME Zion bishop from Charlotte, said in a previous interview. "I don't know of a greater tribute to a man's life when he knows he's made a difference to the poorest of the poor."

Bank expansion

Martin was part of McColl's "inner sanctum" that made the decision to expand NCNB into Florida, which led to the formation of NationsBank, Bank of America's predecessor. Martin coined the name NationsBank.During that expansion in the 1980s, the NationsBank team checked into a Florida hotel as The Martin Group, an effort to keep their visit secret. McColl once said he called the hotel one day asking for Joe B. Martin. But a receptionist told him several rooms were registered to a Martin, but none with a first name or middle initial.

Before every merger, Martin coached McColl on his personal behavior and body language.

"Joe was the thinker in the crowd," McColl said. "He would coach me on what not to do and what not to say."

Even after Martin was diagnosed with ALS in 1994, he remained McColl's close adviser. But understanding his mortality, Martin began to take higher-profile stands for racial harmony and helping other ALS patients.

In 1997, Mecklenburg County's commissioners raised his ire after threatening to cut money to arts programs because a few members objected to plays with gay themes. Martin, McColl and others appeared before the board to voice their disgust.

"What in the name of heaven are you doing to this town?" Martin scolded, gamely pulling himself to the lectern from a wheelchair. "This debate is not about the arts, is it? ... This is about the power of government -- and how some people can use it against others."

He also proposed "Race Day," calling for everyone to invite someone of a different race to lunch. And later, he impolitely declined the county's highest award, writing in a scathing letter that he didn't want any part of the commission's intolerant, anti-gay faction.

"The harder it has become for me to speak, the more attention people seem to pay to what I have to say," Martin once said.

Prolific writer

The degenerative disease that killed baseball legend Lou Gehrig left Martin paralyzed and unable to talk, walk and move a single body part except for a finger, eyes and few facial muscles. Each year, 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disease, according to the ALS Association.

Martin used a special computer that allowed him to write by focusing his eyes on letters of the alphabet. He spent his days rattling off e-mails and, letter by letter, writing a book about overcoming his illness and a well-received novel set in South Carolina published in 2001. He was finishing a second novel when he died.

And he became a crusader for ALS patients.

In 1998, he and Jim Martin raised more than $3 million -- with the help of family and friends -- to build the Carolinas Neuromuscular/ALS Center at Carolinas Medical Center.

In 2003, Martin declared he no longer had ALS, but was living with it. He and Joan began sending that message by the Internet and began raising money for technology that he said makes survival an option.

"He pushed leaders in the ALS community very hard to tell people that the disease was something that you lived with, not something you died from," said Bill Wood, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church and a longtime friend.

In the end, Jim Martin believes his brother proved it. ALS patients typically live five years after diagnosis. Joe Martin lived nearly 12.

"ALS took all his motor nerves away, but not his brain," Jim Martin said. "He could still live and be creative. He was still part of a family and gave love and received it. He was engaged.

"Joe would take great pride that he had survived ALS."

• Funeral arrangements weren't complete Saturday. Family members are planning a memorial service for Wednesday at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 1000 E. Morehead St., Charlotte.
Published by Charlotte Observer on Jul. 2, 2006.
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58 Entries
My Joe (Joseph Russell Honan) passed in 2014. He had ALS For almost 10 years. He was inspired by Joe Martin’s book On Any Given Day. We met Ross Yockey who co-wrote and published his book. He gave advice to my Joe when they talked about him writing his book Tacoma Boy (which took 5 years with him just using his eyes on his special computer).
Joe was a leader at Boeing and had many friends from childhood, schools, theater, and work places (Bank of America, Microsoft, and Boeing) that loved him and were inspired by his braveness and living with ALS. He never lost his humor and love for everyone he knew, especially his many close friends and family. My heart goes out to Joan and family, because I know what you went through and are still going through. I was sitting here tonight thinking about Joe Martin. I still have his book. God bless you Joan and your children.
Ida Honan
August 29, 2020
Dear Martin Family:
I'd like to say thank you as a former employee of the Carolinas Neuromuscular/ALS Center for teaching me a lot about living. I miss you all and pray that you will get through each day. I know you will because its evident that you know how to put up a strong fight!
Shentell Moffett(formerly Smith)
July 10, 2006
Dear Elizabeth and David, you have my deepest sympathy in the loss of your father. I have fond memories of the days at West Charlotte High School when you were in my Calculus and Algebra 2/Trig classes. I am praying for you that the Lord will comfort you as I know that He can. My husband was called to heaven on February 16, 2006 and the Lord has given me strength to carry on.
Peggy Camp
July 5, 2006
To the Martin Family,

Never have I encountered a man with such passion and human concern. To have been in Joe's presence was to have been in the presence of somebody. I am a former NationsBank/Bank of America employee who did have the awesome opportunity to meet him and to hear him speak so passionately about race relations and other community concerns. It is evident that he lived what he talked about. Joe, you were truly an angel on loan and I know that God is happy to have you home. Thank you, Lord, for that precious gift.
July 5, 2006
Joe Martin's goodness and magnificence spreads far and wide. As I've gotten to know his daughter Elizabeth in New York, I have been inspired by his remarkable family and their determination to do good for others. As I've learned all about the Joe and Joan Martin "ImaginOn" Center from a friend who helped design it, I have marvelled at his continual inspiration of others. As I've heard from my childhood neighbor who has served as Joe's nurse how much she has loved her work with him, I've admired his perserverance and wit. I have even coveted his writing talents while reading his novel, Fire in the Rock! Joe has had a tremendous positive impact in the lives of so many. I am grateful for his ongoing influence and pervasive presence among us.
Catherine Milligan
July 5, 2006
Joe B., Jodi, Joseph and Benjamin,

Please know that I send you much love and peace at this time. Your St. Peter's family is holding all of you close.

With love,

Kathy Lanza
Kathy Lanza
July 5, 2006
Joe was truly a friend to me. He helped me in many ways to accomplish things that normally would not have happened without his help. He was a campasionate person and was always there to listen to you when you had an issue. Heaven has opened its gates to another wonderful person.
Sharon Hammill
July 5, 2006
My deepest sympathies to the family of Joe Martin. I was the recipent of the scholarship he sponsored through Bank of America for two years and will never forget his generosity. My prayers are with you.
Kelly Welch
July 4, 2006
Charlotte is a better place because Joe Martin was here. rest in peace Joe, and thank you. Maxine Huggins
maxine huggins
July 4, 2006
Neal and family,
My earliest childhood memories are of adjoining back yards with the Presbyterian manse in Winnsboro. My mother laughingly told stories of the favorite pastime of Neal and me...playing funeral. Apparently, we sang and celebrated. From what I've read of Joe, perhaps we had the right idea. The Martins were loving and welcoming neighbors to an only child who loved to be in their bustling home. My prayers are with you.
Gail Hutchinson Chapman
Gail Hutchinson Chapman
July 4, 2006
Joe's Daddy and mine were not only first cousins, but were close childhood buddies. Though I had only one chance to meet Joe, at Scotia S.C. in the late 70's; it was a particularly well remembered pleasure, because there he shared with my late Wife and me, copies of some of his old Morrison family photos. Later, I read his book, "On Any Given Day"; and he remains a hero of mine. May God bless and give comfort to Joe, his wife and family.
Arthur Morrison
July 4, 2006
We have lost some very special Martins over the years--I feel privileged that they have touched my life in many ways. Joan and family--and "Bubba", Jim and Dottie, Neal and families--we are so saddened by Joe's death, yet full of joy that he now LIVES without ALS! Can you imagine "our" cheerleader and encourager Joe turned loose on Heaven! And, what a reunion! He was such a blessing to so many and inspires us all to do likewise. Joe was even the one who helped open the door for us to come back to NC again and we do love it here. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.
Ann Debele Herbertson
Ann Debele Herbertson
July 4, 2006
Dearest Joan:

How my heart aches for you and your family. Joe was such an inspiration to everyone. I particularly loved him for showing the world that even with an imperfect physical body, one can continue to make a difference. What a difference he did make! He LIVED, LOVED and was LOVED in spite of all of the barriers he faced. What a wonderful legacy he has left for our "shared" grandchildren, as well as the rest of the world. I am so sorry I cannot be there on Wednesday, but my heart is with you.
Lynn Bond
July 4, 2006
Mrs. Martin and family, My deepest sympathies to each of you. Please know you are in my thoughts and prayers.
Sherri Settle
July 4, 2006
To The Martin Family

I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I know Mr. Martin is singing with the Angels now and he is looking down on all of you. May God bless you and your family during this difficult time. All of you are in my thoughts and prayers.
July 4, 2006
I had the pleasure of meeting the Martins at daughter Elizabeth's wedding. I wished then that I could have known Joe Martin sooner. Such men are all too few and far between. My deepest sympathy goes to his family. And we must now be about continuing his good works in tribute to him.
Ellen Sweets
July 3, 2006
Joe was a visionary, a community leader and a good friend. I feel proud to have known him and been able to watch his impact on a great community.
Dewey Olson
July 3, 2006
Dear David and the whole Martin family,

I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of praise and admiration that so many have shared in memory of your father. It is clear that he helped and uplifted multitudes throughout his life, and the legacy he leaves behind is truly one of love.

Please know that you are all in my prayers.

Love, Jessie Palmore
Jessie Palmore
July 3, 2006
Joe Martin's family doesn't know me, but I want them to know that Joe Martin has touched many people, like me, who he never met. I first learned about Joe Martin after my husband was diagnosed with ALS in 9/01. We read Joe's book "On Any Given Day" and it gave us hope. The Joe Martin Scholarship through Bank of America has helped our daughter with her college expenses. We are very grateful. God bless your family.
Diane Schey
July 3, 2006
Joe Martin's family doesn't know me, but I want them to know that Joe Martin touched many people that he never met. I first learned about Joe Martin after my husband was diagnosed with ALS. We read Joe's book "On Any Given Day" and it gave us hope. The Joe Martin Scholarship through Bank of America has helped our daughter with her college expenses. We are very grateful. God bless your family.
Diane Schey
July 3, 2006
Please know that you and your family are in my prayers. Loss is always most difficult for we who remain, but I pray your father is in a better place. We love you at school and hope you will call on us for anything.
Joy Sparks
July 3, 2006
Rest in Peace.....we will miss the good JM brought to this world..........
July 3, 2006
To Mrs. Martin and Family,

Though I never met Mr. Martin I felt a connection with him in so many ways. I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina and my life's journey has led me to Bank of America in Charlotte. As a young African-American man, I want you to know, I thank God for the courage of Mr. Martin as I am sure his efforts have played a role in the opportunities I am currently blessed with enjoying. His example of courage has convicted me to help pave the way for further tolerance on all fronts and I plan to do all I can to make sure the torch of his legacy continues to burn brightly. In closing, I will say "let not your hearts be troubled" as Heaven welcomed one of it warriors home on Saturday morning. You have my love and prayers. May God bless you all during this time of transition.
Andrew S. (Drew) Pittman
July 3, 2006
There are a number of great men and an even larger number of great family men, but rarely do you see both in one person to the extent displayed in my cousin Joe. He was a lighted candle in this sometimes very dark world. He will be missed by so many people but he leaves behind a legacy and a shining spirit that we'll see and feel for years to come. Godspeed, dear cousin, and my love to Joan and the rest of the Martin family. Aunt Eleanor and Cousin Cynthia send their love as well.
Melissa Kalner
July 3, 2006
Dear Joan and Family,
As Biltmore Drive neigbors, you and Joe were so caring for my mother, Rochell. From looking for the signal in her bedroom window, to bringing the Charlotte Observer each morning from the sidewalk to the house was some of the ways you loved and cared for my mother. Joe lived an amazing life and the folks at the bank and Queens allowed him to contribute greatly to our community. May God bless all of you at this time.

Don Mack Woodside
[email protected]
Don Woodside
July 3, 2006
My deepest sympathy to the family of Joe.
I will always remeber Joe as the cheerleader he was during our days at Davidson. He was an inspiration for all of us "jocks" just as he was an inspiration to so many people following the glory years at Davidson.
Bruce Usher
July 3, 2006
I can't tell you how proud I am of Uncle Joe, and how lucky I am to be a part of our family. I am especially proud to notice folks signing this guest book who say they didn't know Joe, but were still in some way touched by his life and work.

I think Joe would want to be sure you know that although he had ALS for a long time, he overcame everything the disease threw at him -- and his passing was from other causes. He survived ALS, and I think he'd be proud for you to know that, and to take courage from that if you are faced with that diagnosis, or any other crisis that others might tell you is hopeless.

Thanks, Uncle Joe, for everything!
Jim Martin, Jr.
July 3, 2006
Great ideas, great leadership, a great man leaving behind a legacy that will continue to shape our area. Condolences to his family and thank you for sharing him with us.
Dennis Milligan
July 3, 2006
May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.
Carolyn Wynn
July 3, 2006
It has been forty - five years since I saw my old high school friend, Joe. He was the best person that I ever knew.
Frank Taylor
July 3, 2006
Although not related by blood, Joseph Martin has been Uncle Joe to me for the last 28 years. Some of my favorite times in life have been shared with him including the Scandanavian smorgisbord at Christmas every year and the annual frisbee golf tournaments at Ocean Isle beach. Uncle Joe has become an inspiration to me as I've grown older. Thanks Joe. I'll miss you.
John Svenson
July 3, 2006

You and the children are in our thoughts and prayers. What an incredible life!

Bob and Carolyn Wynn
Bob and Carolyn Wynn
July 3, 2006
Joe Martin has blessed the lives of many, many people in so many ways and I am so glad that I had the chance to know him and be inspired by him. My love and prayers are with his family.
Dee Foster
July 3, 2006
Dear Mrs. Joan Martin and family,

Although I never knew Joe personally, I felt as if I had known him through my employment with Bank of America. I don't have to tell you what an incredible man Joe was. I was saddened to hear of his passing. His compassion, determination, courage, and selflessness is and always will be an inspiration to me. Peace to you and your family.
Mara Purcell
July 3, 2006
You are in my thoughts and prayers.
July 3, 2006
To Joan and other members of the family: Joe was such an inspiration and exemplary person. The tributes that are pouring in to him are all richly deserved. You deserve immense praise for your stalwart support and care over the past 12 years.
Bob Auman
July 3, 2006
Joan and Family, just to let you know how sad we all are. Mom and Dad wish they could be there on Wednesday but as you know they can't. Same for me and Lynn and our families. Our love goes to you. Love, Cousin Carol Pridgen McCormick
Carol McCormick
July 3, 2006
Dear Joan and family,
Our hearts are heavy and prayers abound for you and your family. We will look forward to being together at the reunion to show our love and support. Please know that we are with you in spirit during this time of sadness.
Love, Dick and Jeanne (Rachie) Rowe
Jeanne Rachie Rowe
July 3, 2006
Joe Martin... the kind of person who makes you feel like you are the most wonderful person on earth just because you are here regardless of any faults you may have. He opened his heart to many but his family was always clearly number one. I feel so fortunate to have become part of his extended family having married Gordy Nevers, his nephew. From the moment I met him at our wedding, I felt loved and welcomed into a very special family unit. Thanks Joe and family for allowing me to be part of Joe's remarkable and inspiring life. Bless you all.
Erin Nevers
erin nevers
July 3, 2006
Never have I known a more caring, compassionate person than Joe Martin. There are so many things to remember about him, but my "best" memory is his crawling on the top floor of the Brownstone Hotel in Raleigh with Ashlee, our daughter, who was eight months old at the was during the transition for the new Jim Martin administration! The world is definitely a much better place because of Joe Martin and I hope some of his great qualities "rub off" on me.
Phil Kirk
July 3, 2006
I first met Joe and his wife at the West Meck HS basketball games. Even though they didn't have any biological children at our school they supported our students. At a recent county commissioners' meeting, I had the opportunity to tell former Governor Jim Martin how much I respected and admired his brother. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.
Cathy Weil
July 3, 2006
My thoughts and prayers are with you at this time. Joe was an incredible person and will be greatly missed by everyone but we have all been blessed to have know him. Joe was a true scholar and gentleman. Joe taught me so many things over the years and I will always be thankful to him and always have him in my memories.
Kris Nickels
July 3, 2006
Sorry so for your lost. I know that Joe is singing with the angels now. Let God comfort you during this difficult time. Your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.
Lisa Oakley
July 3, 2006
Although I did not know Mr. Martin personally, I did have the good fortune of crossing paths with him a few years ago in the lobby of Carolinas Medical Center. I knew who he was right away. I smiled and said "Hello". Although he could not speak, he smiled back softly. It was a short encounter, but I have always remembered the warmth and brightness of his eyes that day. I know he will be truly missed by his family and friends.
Marsha Kent
July 3, 2006
It was my privilege to have written a newspaper article about Joe and a friend who, too, has Lou Gehrig's disease. In an accompanying column, I attempted to illustrate that in spite of living with an insidious disease, they were teaching us not only how to live life successfully - but also how to make life better for others.
It was an honor to have met him. His works and his spirit live on. Sincere sympathy, thoughts and prayers to you, Joan, and all the family.
Barbara Bradley
July 3, 2006
My deepest sympathy and heartfelt prayers go out to the family members, friends, loved ones and co-workers of Joe Martin,
We mourn their loss and honor their memory.
Charles M GILL
July 3, 2006
Joe Martin will always be one of the people I think of when I'm trying to figure out "what is our goal" or "what is the right thing to do...?" Through every circumstance and every moment in life (for the many years I've known him,) he responded with everything that he truly believed. Joe was an incredible person with a universal vision for good life.
Steve Youngblood
July 3, 2006
Joe increased both joy and purpose in my life; as good a gift as a friend can give.
John Chiles
July 2, 2006
Joe will be missed by all of us. He was one of our favorite people while at Davidson. Cecil and I mentioned Joe's name many times before Cecil passed away. Joe helped getting other Beta's to vote for me to be their sweetheart. What a guy. Love and prayers to you and your family, Joan. Anna Holcomb
anna holcomb
July 2, 2006
Joe Martin was an inspiration to others "living" with ALS. As a physical therapist, I saw him many times come into our clinic and give hope to others that there was joy in life, even with disability, and that one could continue to love and be loved by others, that one could make a difference. Joe is a wonderful spirit, who will continue to live on in our hearts. God speed.
Chrys Kub
July 2, 2006
Joan and Family,

We mourn your loss. Joe's warm friendship and beaming smile fills all of the heavens now. From our early years at Davidson to his long career at B of A, Joe was a great leader and friend to all. Thank you for being such a loving and supportive life partner to him and to your family over these years. May Joe now truly "rest" in the peace of our Lord. Our lives have been richly blessed to have known him and you.
Warmly, Phil & Gaile
Phil & Gaile Patrick
July 2, 2006
I work at ImaginOn and am new to the city and state. It is not difficult to see the beauty and strength of Joe's presence, vision, and values in such a wonderful place that serves the community of Charlotte and beyond.
Kelly Czarnecki
July 2, 2006

you leave a legacy all Davidson students and mankind are proud of. i feel privileged to be your classmate. you demonstrate by living a great example of the Greek saying. "a man is wealthy in proportion to the things he can do without."
Lew Zirkle
July 2, 2006
Hello Joan!

I'm sooo sorry to hear of Joe's passing. I grew up with him in Columbia, SC. and we were cheerleaders together at Dreher High School. We went to church camps together and our parents knew each other.

What a wonderful guy Joe was. And, he's right; the real Joe was always smiling and thinking of others and cracking jokes, even in his last years.

What a brave battle he fought. I regret I didn't come by to visit him these last years. I know you know that he touched many lives in such a positive way. You and you family are in my prayers.
Anna Long Fitzgerald
July 2, 2006
Thank you for the vision and committment to Charlotte. It is a wonderful place to live and i appreciate the hard work that came before me.
james mathis
July 2, 2006
Dear Joan,
There is a lump in my throat with the news that your dear Joe is gone. I loved his zest for life and all that he stood for. God be with you and your family at this time.
janie Bird
janie Bird
July 2, 2006
Mr. Martin you will be missed. I was your last "race day" luncheon person. I remember that luncheon like it were yesterday and it has been almost 10 years ago.
Now your soul can rest in peace.
DeLisse Thomas
July 2, 2006
Dearest Joan and Family,

Though our hearts are breaking, we will, in Joe's spirit and by his example, continue the fight to live with MND! He would smile at that.

We love you!
Jodie and (for) Victor Pollak
July 2, 2006
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