Fresh out of Tennessee State University with a psychology degree in 1964, Martha Blue needed a job.
Back home in Macon, her mother, who worked in a parts wing at Robins Air Force Base, got wind of a job at the city’s welfare office.
Blue, who’d gone to school hoping to become a child psychologist, called the office repeatedly.
“I didn’t know nothing about no DFACS,” she recalled.
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On the phone, she insisted on speaking to the director, who finally agreed to see her.
Blue, then 22, was hired as what was then known as a public welfare worker.
She would never work anywhere else.
Blue, 72, retired Thursday as director of the Division of Family and Children Services in Macon.
Her personnel file, which still contains a receptionist’s note of Blue’s persistent calls seeking work half a century ago, is a relic.
The note, no doubt passed along to the hiring director back then, mentioned that Blue “sounds like she’s a colored worker.”
It was an era, Blue said, “before civil rights was even thought about.”
Martha Louise Knox Blue, who retired as one of the state’s longest-serving employees, grew up on Oliver Street, a long-since-gone-to-pot dead end off Houston Avenue just north of Eisenhower Parkway.
“Bad area,” she said.
Seven years ago, while her family was sprucing up the old family home for renters, a squatter -- a crack addict -- moved in and burned the house down.
In her career, Blue has dealt with all manner of child neglect and poverty at its worst. She has seen despair’s drug of choice evolve from alcohol to crack and meth.
At her going-away shindig Thursday with cake and punch in the DFACS office at Third and Oglethorpe streets, her grin was as bright as the cream suit and pink top she wore.
Blue, who served three decades as deputy director before being promoted to the office’s top position last year, said she stuck around so long because “I never wanted to do anything else.”
Blue’s replacement won’t be hired for a while, though an interim director should be named by Monday.
On Thursday, the mayor gave her a key to the city.
Co-workers handed her an engraved silver platter and a crystal vase.
Someone kidded about trying to get her to stay on until December.
Cheryl Williams, the DFACS social services program director, said Blue “just has that gift about her where people can just come in and sit down, and she’s able to draw things out. She can get to the bottom of what’s going on. ... She listens. ... I guess it’s the gift of mercy.”
Blue calls herself “a nut.”
Most everyone else calls her Blue.
Not Mrs. Blue.
She’ll be in a store and people will recognize her and holler, “Blue!”
She said, “Some people think it’s a nickname.”
William Thomas, the deputy director of DFACS, called Blue “a true champion for children and families.”
Thomas told the gathering of more than 60 who’d come to bid Blue farewell, “We are going to miss her. She has been the mom to everybody in this office. If you needed some wise counsel, if you needed someone to talk to, Mrs. Blue’s door was always open.”
Randy Gregg, a minister, told the crowd, “I’ve watched her leadership turn this whole place around.”
He spoke of Blue’s tenacity and “following the compassion in her heart” for the good of locals in need.
When it came time for Blue to speak, she applauded her staff.
“Y’all know I love you,” she said, adding, “it’s been a long time. I’m gonna miss you. You are my family.”
Her eyes appeared to tear up at times.
Afterward, she told a co-worker, “I know they never see me cry, because I’m tough.”
Over the years, she didn’t take many days off, either.
Upon retirement, she had two years of leave built up.
Her son, Chris, her only child, said she taught him to “respect those who are different.”
Growing up, he said, it seemed she was always on call, “like a detective” for the abused and unfortunate.
Now she can go on vacation.
For retirement, Chris bought her luggage.
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.