Friends and officials pay tribute to former mayor

WARNER ROBINS — A host of family, friends and acquaintances paid tribute to the life and accomplishments of Ed Martin on Wednesday morning at Christ United Methodist Church.

The retired Air Force colonel and former mayor of Warner Robins died Sunday morning. He was 72.

His former pastor, the Rev. Tommy Martin, delivered the eulogy. He told the crowd that he wanted to “tell the other side of the story” after a Monday article in The Telegraph focused on Martin’s legal problems while he was mayor. Martin was convicted in a videotape extortion scandal in the early 1990s. He was released after serving 20 months in prison when an appeals court ruled his 51-month sentence was excessive.

The veteran minister said Martin’s life story had huge successes as well as failure.

“He learned the power of love, faith and putting his life in the hands of Jesus Christ,” he explained. “He probably understood more than most about redemption, forgiveness and rising up from the ashes. He knew what it was to be forgiven and made new. Out of that came a man more deeply committed to God, family and community.”

Martin was born in Illinois but ran away from home several times before succeeding at the age of 12. “He sought out a better life, something that was missing in his own home,” the pastor said. “A family in South Dakota took him in and modeled love, acceptance and a strong work ethic. They defined for him friendship, loyalty and honor.”

He joined the Air Force at age 17 with no high school diploma. Six years later, he had gained his GED and entered Officer Candidate School.

The pastor said Martin never forgot those years as an enlisted man. “They taught him to value every soul and to treat people as equals,” he said.

Martin went on to flight school, earned a college degree, logged combat hours in Vietnam and retired from the Air Force in 1983 as a colonel.

State Rep. Larry O’Neal spoke briefly about his close friend, saying he faced many obstacles but always remained positive.

“He would say you can’t change the past, but you sure can make the future better,” he said.

O’Neal described Martin’s deep love for his wife, Mary Ann; his daughter, Mandy; son, Gary; and his grand and great-grandchildren.

“He leaves a great hole in our lives along with a legacy of love and a life lived abundantly,” he said. “He will always be an inspiration.”

The state legislator described Martin’s adaptability when he first began to work for Golden Key Realty soon after retiring from the Air Force.

“He was the only man in an all-woman office,” O’Neal noted. “So the things he learned in combat stood him in good stead. His survival skills came in handy.”

Martin’s daughter, Mandy Straham, spoke tearfully of her father. “My daddy was the greatest man I’ve ever known,” she said. “He taught us the greatest things in life were God, family and country. He not only taught us that, but he demonstrated it. I know we will be reunited one day. That’s what makes this unbearable loss bearable.”

The former pastor said Martin had a knack for making lasting friendships. “His personality drew people to him and if you were Ed’s friend, you were his friend for life,” he explained. “He knew you by name. He knew how to care for people.”

He said the retired colonel considered him family since they had the same last names. “I’m not sure there was a biological connection,” the pastor admitted, “but if so, I would be proud to claim it.”

Martin was to be interred at Andersonville National Cemetery.

To contact Gene Rector, call 923-3109, extension 239.