"To the Top of the World"

To the Top of the WorldThomas L. Martin encouraged his students to become "centers of Mormonism" throughout the world.

By Ashley Holmes

Thomas Lysons Martin was born in England in 1885. Poor conditions during his first few years of life caused Martin to suffer many diseases throughout his childhood which ultimately resulted in his small, fivefoot adult frame. Martin liked to say that he had “a pint-sized body with a giant-sized ambition.”1

His ambition, however, did not make his road easy. Martin’s start in school was not particularly promising, but that did not stop him from aiming high. As a boy he made a goal to become a teacher, and he maneuvered through every obstacle he encountered in order to achieve his goal. After fifth grade, Martin dropped out of school and began working in the coal mines and at a dairy to help raise funds so that he and his family could immigrate to Utah. Once he had accomplished this, and after a sixyear break from school, he returned to seventh grade at age 19. He had not forgotten his goal.

He graduated high school four years later and, encouraged by his principal, Martin went to Brigham Young University immediately following his graduation. He graduated from BYU in 1912 and a few years later received a Ph.D. in soils from Cornell. In 1921, his lifelong dream became a reality when he finally became a professor at BYU.

As a professor, Martin encouraged his students as his principal had encouraged him, and found that as he did so, they increased their efforts. He told his students to “go to the top of the world no matter how great the problem might be, or how big the position” and assured them that if “you set your mind to it . . . you can get it!”2 According to Allen Christensen, one of Martin’s last students, Martin did more than just educate his students; he “stirred their souls.”3 Over the course of his 37-year professorship, Martin inspired over 150 BYU graduates to seek graduate degrees in the field of agronomy. He prompted his students to attend universities in the East, his purpose being that “if they located in different places in the country, they would be centers of Mormonism and Mormon influence.” A former student, Sterling Weed, attests to the wisdom in that counsel, saying that “most of the Church branches associated with the towns where the schools were located were very small and struggling. Thus, there were many opportunities to give service.”4

According to Weed, “Though Dr. Martin was small in stature, he stood tall in his influence on the students he came in contact with.” Likewise, the Martin Building remains standing tall and Martin’s influence can live on through the many students that he inspired in his time as a professor at BYU.5


1. Leonard J. Arrington, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 318.
2. Thomas L. Martin, “The Story of My Life,” BYU Devotional, October 30, 1951.
3. Nicole Seymour, “Go East, Young Man: The Legacy of Thomas L. Martin,” BioAg (Spring 2007): 5.
4. Sterling Weed, e-mail message to Sue Pratley, February 7, 2009.
5. Unless otherwise indicated, quotations and information for this article were taken from Thomas L. Martin, My Life Story, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.