"To the Top of the World"
Thomas 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
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
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
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.