MarieThérèse (Terry) Martin is an author, nurse, pianist, and life-long resident of Maine. She grew up in Rumford, a town which would later become notable as part of Maine's "Cancer Valley." As an adult, Terry became a registered nurse and helped run a private family medical practice with her late husband, "Doc" Martin. Terry is the author of And Poison Fell From the Sky, a memoir that details the battles she fought both in her community and the private battles she fought in her own home. She now lives in Hartford, has three children and several grandchildren.We had the opportunity to hear more from Terry about her life of service, ambition, and truth-telling. Keep reading to hear what she had to say.
You have described your paternal grandfather as "the most consequential man" in your young life, can you tell us about him?
He was the minister of music and choir director for the cathedral-like church in my
hometown, and he served in that capacity for more than fifty years. When the church was newly built, Pepere was offered the position of minister of music and when he confessed that he wasn’t up to the task, they sent him to Paris. He spent six months studying the nuances of church music and the church organ. It must have been thrilling for a young man to sit on organ benches that had been anointed by worldly and distinguished European organists and to learn how to play and control the sound. When he returned to Rumford, the newly installed organ and a sixty-member choir were ready for his direction. From my early youth, I sang with and sat with him on the organ bench watching him deliver music on Christmas Eve and every church holiday. He was my teacher and what he did was legendary.
There were times during your journey to expose the truth about the paper mill's actions where you must have felt almost hopeless. What inspired you to keep fighting?
My feelings of hopelessness towards the environmental tragedies that have befallen Maine and my town have not disappeared with the writing of this book. My deepest cause of hopelessness was that we could never get anyone to listen. There was a common thread of willful blindness and apathy associated with this topic.
There was a time in the 1970’s when we could have embraced the reality of what was happening and made changes; a time of Edmund Muskie and his forward- thinking protections of water and air in his hometown; a time of Rachel Carson with her grand view of environmental issues; and a time of Edward "Doc" Martin, who despite deep personal risk, was willing to shine a light on these very issues.
How have attitudes toward the mill changed in your hometown over the last forty years?
In my opinion, attitudes within the town and the state towards pollution have made little progress. We are still mired in a past that recognizes pollution exists, but accepts it as the cost of doing business.
Despite the negative affects of the mill on your childhood, what are some of the fond memories you have of your formative years?
Some of my fondest childhood memories involve Christmas. The Christmas Tree was the centerpiece of our holiday and our living room. After reading a book written by the Maine author, Louise Dickinson Rich, We Took to the Woods, my idea of the Christmas Tree evolved. She suggested that instead of cutting down a tree, we plant one in a most visible place near the house and decorate it for the season with popcorn and cranberries to attract the local birds. Watching a tree grow outside and naming it the Christmas Tree gave it another meaning and with garlands of popcorn birds would visit. At night, when the lights were on, it could be seen from every window in the house. I rather like that idea, and so did the birds.
My mother’s family, which included many aunts, uncles, and cousins made every holiday special. We cooked together, shared traditional meals, attended weddings and wakes and enjoyed each other. As I struggled to discover my own identity, family and community interactions were important and meaningful to me.
How do you think growing up in the Catholic tradition shaped your attitude around being of service to your community? Do you feel that people nowadays would be happier with more of a religious tradition in their lives, or did your experience give you other perspectives?
Every church has a belief system and a way of life with a playbook of instructions. I was taught ideas relating to kindness and responsibility towards my neighbor but it has done little, in my view, to address the environmental issues of my town or any town. There is a disconnect between watching abuse happen, recognizing it when it does and doing something about it.
We are living in a time of extreme stress on nursing staffs across the country due to COVID-19. As you saw so many people in your community get cancer, how did you deal with the stress? Do you have any words of wisdom for a young person thinking they want to become a nurse today?
I would never discourage anyone from becoming a nurse as I am proud of my profession, and for the opportunity to serve in that way. Maine has a strong reputation for developing nurses of integrity and competence. My service as nurse manager in our medical practice in the Rumford and Mexico for over thirty years leaves me with no regrets.