(Editor’s note: This year co-parade marshals were chosen by the Palisades Americanism Parade Association. Circling the New received permission from PAPA to run this story. Tomorrow CTN will run the story of the other co-marshal.)
By LAUREL BUSBY
Dr. Mike Martini, 96, is woven into the fabric of Pacific Palisades.
He moved to town in 1954 to join Dr. Edwin Russell’s pediatric practice on Via de la Paz. Martini treated children throughout the community for more than 40 years. A few even grew up to become doctors, and in recent years, he became their patient.
He has been a member of the Palisades-Malibu YMCA board since its inception. He’s a past commander of American Legion Post 283, a former honorary fire chief, and a 1967 Citizen of the Year.
In addition, Martini has been active at Corpus Christi Church, and his long volunteerism inspired Monsignor Liam Kidney to recommend him for a papal blessing (Benemerenti Award), which he received in 2010. He is also the last surviving charter member of the Palisades Optimist Club, which was formed in 1956.
“I’ve been a happy, lucky guy here in town,” he said. “I was very fortunate to move here.”
And as such an active member of the community, he is of course a regular part of the Fourth of July Parade. He has ridden in the Station 69 fire truck, and for many years he marched with the Optimist Club troupe. In addition, he was parade marshal in 1990, an honor he’ll be repeating this year when both he and Joe Halper will be sharing the duty.
Each annual parade has provided Martini with a special memory, but he recalls his antics with the Optimists with particular delight.
“We always tried to do something funny or different,” he said. “Some years we had briefcases and we would throw them up and catch them. Other years we wore shorts and a top hat. Other times we performed with canes. We had a lot of fun. We called ourselves the imprecise drill team.”
He and his late wife of 67 years, Elaine, whom he met during medical school in St. Louis, also raised a large and devoted family. They first had three daughters, Kathleen, Barbara and Eileen, followed by three sons, Richard, Jim and Joseph.
Today, Martini has 15 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren. Another great-grandchild is expected to join the clan in July. The younger generation lives in various states, including Texas and North Carolina, and one granddaughter even lives in London.
“We’re one big happy family spread all over the world,” he said. “We all love one another. I’m so grateful for all the love that’s in this family.”
Over the years, Martini traveled the globe, sometimes for pediatric conventions, and other times on family vacations with his adult children. He’s visited numerous places, including Japan, Egypt, Israel and Rome.
On one special trip to Italy, he got the chance to visit his mother’s hometown in Sicily. A number of his relatives there belonged to the Greek Uniate church. He said they came from Albania in the 1400s-1500s, and their priests retained the right to marry, even after they became affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.
“So, I have great grandparents who were priests,” he noted. His eldest son, Richard, is now a monsignor with the LA Archdiocese. Every Wednesday, he visits Martini to cook a big meal, while daughter Eileen lives with him full time to help him on a daily basis.
Over the years, Martini has had the occasional adventure. For example, after graduating from Loyola High in 1942 and earning a pre-med degree from UCLA, he joined the Navy Reserve and worked in the Long Beach Hospital until the war’s end. During the Korean War, he was called back into duty, and he became the doctor for a mine-sweeping squadron in North Korean waters.
One day, shells landed in front and behind the ship.
“The captain yelled, ‘Go for cover. They’ve got us bracketed!’” Martini recalled. “The next shell hit us right in the middle of the ship.”
For the ship’s crew, the location of the blast was fortuitous. The gangway was damaged, shrapnel hit the smokestacks, and a shell whizzed past someone’s head as he worked in his office, but only one crewman was injured.
Upon returning home and finishing his residency, Martini learned about the opening at Dr. Russell’s practice and his life journey in the Palisades was born.
“It’s a great town to live in,” he said. “The people are just a friendly group of people.”
Through the years, Martini has dealt with some challenges, such as cancer; he recently had cancerous cells removed from his scalp. He also lost his oldest daughter, Kathleen, to the disease in 2008.
During his retirement, he has tried to help others with some of their challenges. He attended to seniors by delivering food for Meals on Wheels and also worked as a Eucharistic minister for Catholic patients at UCLA hospital for many years.
After almost a century of life, he looks back on many joyful experiences raising his children and watching his patients, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren grow. The boys were active Little League baseball players, and his wife once calculated that she spent 23 years enjoying their games, while the girls preferred dance lessons and performances, which were also a pleasure to watch.
“I look back on a wonderful life,” Martini said.