Martin retires, Montgomery Independent to remain in family
Owner and longtime publisher of The Montgomery Independent, Robert A. Martin has retired. Over the last several years Bob has been gradually passing the duties of running the newspaper to his oldest son, Jeff Martin. Effective August 1, Bob decided to complete the handover.
Martin began his newspaper career with The Florence Times of Florence, Alabama, now known as The Times/Daily while attending Florence State University, now the University of North Alabama (UNA).
As a college student, Martin began in the mailroom, worked in circulation and started covering high school football games. He became a sports reporter and eventually sports editor. He continued to advance at The Times ultimately becoming its executive editor.
In 1972 Martin, with family in tow, followed newly elected Chief Justice Howell Heflin to Montgomery where he began a 25-year career with the Administrative Office of the Courts working under Chief Justices Heflin, C.C. “Bo” Torbert, Sonny Hornsby and Perry Hooper, Sr. His wife, Nancy, spent much of her career at Saint James School where she taught first grade. Martin said he cherishes the time he spent with the state and is especially proud of his long, ongoing efforts to improve the justice system in Alabama.
He is also a graduate of Jones School of Law and spent many years as a coach and President of Dixie Youth baseball, an activity the entire Martin household participated in growing up.
Throughout his career in both the newspaper business and as director of the courts, Martin became friends with and met many important figures, not the least of which was President John Kennedy. He also wrote many interesting stories about famous people in Alabama and the south. One of those was Buford Pusser, the sheriff depicted in the famous movie “Walking Tall.” Pusser was the Sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee, not far from Florence.
“He was truly one of the most fascinating persons I ever met and he meant business,” Martin said.
While at the AOC, Bob played a vital role in passing the Judicial Article, which unified and standardized the public’s interaction with Alabama courts. Having the same form in Huntsville courts and Mobile courts may seem like a no-brainer today, but for many years it wasn’t that organized.
“It was while he was working for Chief Justice Heflin when I first met Bob. He had worked on what became a constitutional amendment to create the unified judicial system, which as far as I am concerned has been an outstanding example of a judicial system. Any kind of judiciary is going to have its shortcomings but the system our state created is second to none in the United States, and Bob played a big part in that. Bob has been a friend of mine and a servant to the people of Alabama. Now that he has decided to retire, I think he deserves the rest,” said longtime Circuit Judge and former state Senator Jerry Fielding.
Martin said he cherishes the time he spent with the state and is especially proud of his long, ongoing efforts to improve the justice system in Alabama. “My time with the Courts was very rewarding and exciting, but my first love was always “newspapering,”’ Martin said using one of his favorite phrases.
After spending 25 years working for the State of Alabama, Bob felt a call to continue his first career, the news business. Martin purchased The Montgomery Independent in March, 1997 and soon after retired from the State of Alabama to dedicate all of his time to the publication.
His primary goal as editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent was to remain dedicated to covering community affairs, especially those events that received little or no attention from other media outlets. Martin’s weekly editorial was syndicated in other newspapers throughout the state and he appeared regularly on Alabama Public Television’s For the Record and Capitol Journal.
One area of excellence for the newspaper under Martin’s leadership was state government reporting and opinion. Martin worked diligently to provide a variety of commentary related to state issues, which became a hallmark of the newspaper along with its reporting of local society events and the coverage of high school sports.
In 2003 he founded another newspaper, The Millbrook Independent, along with Art Parker, who was also serving as the sports editor of The Montgomery Independent. That publication enjoyed more than a dozen years of success until the company sold it in 2015 and Parker returned to the Montgomery paper. Today Parker serves as editor and handles the day-to-day operations of The Montgomery Independent.
Bob served as President of the Alabama Press Association (APA) Journalism Foundation in 2008. Felicia Mason, Executive Director of the APA remembers Martin’s service to the foundation.
“Bob has provided sound leadership to APA through his service on the APA Board and as president of the APA Journalism Foundation. His interest in journalism education helped countless students through the grants, internships and scholarships offered through the Foundation. He was a staunch advocate for programs supporting high school journalism and for the Newspapers In Education programs, which provided newspapers to classrooms throughout the state.”
In addition to his many professional acquaintances some have become close, dear friends. Retired Clerk of the Alabama Supreme Court Robert Esdale is one such person.
“I consider Bob Martin one of the real pluses in my life. He is a dear friend and a fellow Atlanta Braves fanatic. He and I had season tickets to the Atlanta Braves for more than 20 years,” Esdale said.
Longtime Montgomery lawyer Tommy Gallion said that he counts Bob not only as a true friend but one of the great journalists in Montgomery history.
“Bob was one of the last true journalists. He came from a time when facts and citing sources was important. Far from the fake news of today. For Bob it was more important to be right than to be first. In addition to that he has been a true friend of mine for many years,” Gallion said.
Montgomery businessman Milton McGregor has known Bob as a customer, advisor and political ally. He also considers him a close personal friend.
“I have never known anyone in the media with as much integrity as Bob Martin. He is an honest person and I am delighted to call him my friend,” McGregor said.
Martin’s son Jeff will assume the position of publisher of the newspaper and Parker will serve as editor. “I guess it is only fitting, seeing how I have followed in my father’s footsteps, both as a lobbyist and writer, throughout my professional career,” said the younger Martin, adding, “dad’s footprints have made quite the impression and I’ll do my best to fill them as he is deserving of some much needed relaxation.”