The bard of Port Townsend

Posted 6/19/24

irst came an email, next a voicemail, then more email, including forwards from other people who work at The Leader: Laura Martin, long- time resident of Port Townsend, had passed away. 

It …

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The bard of Port Townsend


irst came an email, next a voicemail, then more email, including forwards from other people who work at The Leader: Laura Martin, long- time resident of Port Townsend, had passed away. 

It was the kind of outreach that more generally follows a muckety muck, perhaps a city official or the CEO of a top employer — someone who played a role that had a big impact on the community.

The role Laura C. Martin, 73, played was herself, a talented, eccentric character who saw boundaries as blurry, if she saw them at all. It was the kind of outreach that says as much about Port Townsend as it does about Martin, who had lived here 42 years when she died June 6.

Martin was best known as a singer, dancer and poet — some said a bard — who favored musical and creative happenings. In Celtic tradition, a bard was a minstrel poet who recited epic poetry and verse sometimes with a harp or other instrument. Martin had a great singing voice and gave recitations with a confidence that demanded attention. “She knew more songs and harmonies than anyone I’ve ever known,” said Silvia Platt, a friend of 34 years. “She was upbeat and happy, in a guileless sort of way.”

Martin regularly attended open mic nights and led regular song circles at the Recovery Cafe. But then, Martin was everywhere, from social groups to events connected to the city government to parties where, in some cases, she hadn’t technically been invited.  She was also friendly and kind. Social media was full of examples of her doing things like giving someone a classical guitar and occasionally allowing people in need to stay at her house.    

Martin was one of four children raised by a professor and homemaker, Robert Martin and the former Roberta Pruitt, in Portland. Robert Martin was a physics professor at Lewis & Clark University from 1962 to 1985, and before that taught at Reed College. Perhaps more importantly, in terms of Laura’s formative years, the Martins were members of the Religious Society of Friends, also called Quakers. The faith is known for its lack of hierarchy, a belief that all have access to God, and a deep commitment to nonviolence. Robert Martin, a conscientious objector during World War II, did his service in North Dakota by working on a land reclamation project. The Martins were also a musical family. Robert Martin, a tenor, performed in local choral groups and in theatrical performances.

Laura Martin moved to a house on Calhoun Street in Port Townsend in 1982, where she had lived ever since.

By all accounts, June 6 started as a typical day. Martin went to Irondale where there was music, and someone gave her a ride back to her home on Calhoun Street in Port Townsend. At some point she tried to get to her car. A neighbor found her nearby the vehicle in the morning. An ambulance was called, and the crew did what they could, but Martin’s life had come to an end.

Martin was recalled on social media for creativity and persona, including references to “Glinda the good witch on a bicycle,” a favored mode of transportation as well as a reference to the kinder of the two witches in “The Wizard of Oz.” She also shared a single trait with Count Dracula, because she could not stand garlic. Cooks welcoming Martin knew to omit it from her portions.

Martin projected a belief that she belonged wherever she was, and sometimes that meant attending the food spreads at parties where she wasn’t on the guest list.  “It could irritate people, but no one stopped her,” said neighbor Brett Nunn. 

The first time Nunn met Martin, she was in his kitchen. He and wife Becky Nunn had been in the back of their new house ripping up carpet, and hadn’t heard her come in. Martin was going through the refrigerator, perhaps as a friend of the previous owner, who wasn’t present but hadn’t fully vacated. Martin asked, did they have any salt and pepper?

Two events will be held at the Recovery Cafe, an open mic on Friday, June 21, and a celebration of life on June 28, both from 6-8 p.m. The Port Townsend Farmers Market plans an open-mic tribute to Laura from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 28. There will be performances, including by Balfolk Dance Ensemble, and anyone who wants to be added to the song circle can write A Quaker Memorial Meeting for Worship followed by a singing circle and potluck refreshments will be held for Laura at 11 am on Aug. 17 at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

— Meredith Jordan, editor