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Saranac Lake's longtime public works chief dies (update)

Robert Martin remembered as committed, caring, knowledgeable

April 10, 2012
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - Robert Martin, the village of Saranac Lake's longtime Department of Public Works superintendent, has died.

Martin, 52, died at home Tuesday morning after a long battle with cancer. He had been a village employee for 25 years, the last 13 as DPW superintendent.

"In my 14 years of elected office, I've met many public servants, and Robert Martin is one of the best I've ever met," village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said, offering condolences to Martin's family. "His heart was in his job, and his heart was in the village, and it showed in everything he did."

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Robert Martin in February 2000
(Enterprise file photo — Peter Crowley)

Martin was hired by the village in February 1987 and worked his way up the ladder. He worked for the water and sewer department, later became operator of the village sewer plant and in 1998 was appointed DPW superintendent, according to current village sewer plant operator Kevin Pratt, who worked side by side with Martin over the last 25 years.

"Robert always said whatever he couldn't figure out, I usually did, and vice versa. We were a great team together," Pratt said. "Now, I'm not going to have that to turn to. He had a great knowledge of the village.

"Probably one of our most memorable moments was three years in a row on Christmas Day when we ended up downstairs in the old Bloomingdale (Avenue sewer) lift station when it flooded. We shared that memory several times."

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Former village Trustee John McEneany was a high school classmate of both Martin and Pratt, and worked with them both during his 10-year stint on the village board.

"As far as Robert is concerned, there's only two things that guy cared about: One was his family, and the other was the village of Saranac Lake," McEneany said. "Robert was always very informative to members of the board. He always had time for you and explained stuff to trustees so they could come up to speed. There was nothing that guy didn't know as far as the infrastructure of the village."

Howard Riley recommended Martin for the job of DPW superintendent in 1998, when Riley was village manager.

"I thought he was the best man for the job, and it turned out that he was. He was so dedicated to the village. It didn't matter if it was morning, noon or night; if there was something going on, he would be there."

That commitment to public service is something that runs in the Martin family. Robert Martin's father worked for the village for 30 years, retiring in 1990 as DPW supervisor. Martin's son Dustin currently works for the village as a supervisor in the village water and sewer department.

"It's a family tradition, and Robert's family should be very proud of his contribution to Saranac Lake," Rabideau said.

Robert Martin was diagnosed with cancer in 2005. When it became clear that he couldn't get into the field as much as he used to, Martin took on different roles with DPW. He became the point person answering calls from the public about water and sewer pipes, plowing, road work, picking up old Christmas trees or whatever else people called about. The village also tasked Martin with putting his institutional knowledge of village infrastructure on paper.

"Telling guys where storm drains were, where valves were or shut-offs that might have been paved over, forgotten about or in the woods somewhere," McEneany said. "He would go out with whoever and locate it on the maps using GPS when they came back to the office. Robert spent a lot of his last years getting that stuff on paper for us, which, to be honest, is invaluable."

"The last few years were tough to watch," Pratt said. "But he really cared about the village and worked real hard. Whenever he could get out of bed and get to work, he did."

Village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans worked in the next cubicle over from Martin for about a year after Martin's office was moved from the DPW garage to the village office building.

"We both got a mutual appreciation for the things we were both involved in," Evans said. "He had a wealth of knowledge, not only about the village itself but who to talk to and the resources for solving the problems that come to DPW every day."

The news of Martin's passing hit many of Martin's friends and co-workers at the village hard Tuesday. Village Manager John Sweeney said he wasn't willing to talk to the Enterprise because he was overcome with emotion and didn't feel he could add to what Rabideau and others had said.

"It's kind of hard for me because I just lost my brother to cancer three months ago," said Pratt. "I'm just trying to make it through the day."

The village had been planning a recognition picnic for Martin at Mount Pisgah, Rabideau said.

"We had started the planning for that a few weeks ago, and it was conditioned on Robert's capability of attending, of course," he said. "Obviously it did not come to pass, but we will plan a tribute to his life and contributions to Saranac Lake."

Out of respect for Martin's family, Rabideau declined to answer questions about how the village plans to replace Martin until sometime next week.

In addition to his parents, Martin is survived by his wife Wendy, his sons Robert and Dustin, his daughter Channa and other family members.

Funeral services for Martin will take place Thursday and Friday. His obituary is on page 3 of today's Enterprise and is linked to at right.



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