Go East Young Man

Dr. Thomas Lysons Martin in 1941
This photo of Dr. Martin at the blackboard was taken in 1941 by George Blake, one of the "Martin Boys" who said "I had my camera with me in class one day and decided I'd get a picture of Dr. Martin teaching plant physiology." Dr. Blake retired from the University of Minnesota and now resides in Provo.
If you were a student in the College after 1969 you most likely took courses in the MARB (Martin Building), but you probably didn't know much about the man the MARB was named for. You probably didn't know that he stirred the souls of the students he taught and helped them aspire to higher degrees. You probably didn't know that Thomas L. Martin left a legacy of mentoring hundreds of students like you.

At barely more than five feet tall, Thomas Lysons Martin appeared to have more enthusiasm for educating the youth of Zion than could be contained within his little frame. Affectionately known as "Tommy" by family, friends, and former students, Dr. Martin's extraordinary personal interest in the students he taught left a legacy that has significantly shaped the BYU campus, the LDS church, the nation, and the world.

Making an Impact

Thomas Lysons Martin received his Ph.D. in soil technology from Cornell in 1919. He was considered for a position at Cornell but was refused because of his religion. He had the same experience at Penn State, Arkansas, Wyoming, and Michigan State.

In 1950 Professor Martin was honored by the American Society of Agronomy for "having inspired more young men to go on to advanced degrees in soils than any other teacher in the nation." [From the funeral sermon of Dr. Martin delivered by BYU president Ernest L. Wilkinson, June, 1958.]

Among these Martin boys was former Church President Ezra Taft Benson, who was U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under Eisenhower.

Nyle Brady, another Martin boy, (B.S. 1941) recalls that when he told Dr. Martin of his acceptance for a Ph.D. at North Carolina State, Dr. Martin immediately ran into his office and added a mark to groups of five marks accumulating on his blackboard. "I don't remember what my number was," Brady said, "but it was obvious that he was keeping a record of students he had guided into graduate work, and he took great pride in them."

Students in front of the MARB
BYU students gathered outside the MARB in the winter of 2007.
Martin started early to plant a vision in the hearts of his students - often in the hearts of promising freshmen. He said that the simple act of taking individual interest in students brought a new energy to the manner in which they approached the balance of their college careers.

Allen Christensen (B.S. 1957), one of Martin's last students and current director of BYU's Benson Institute said Dr. Martin not only educated his students, but he also stirred their souls. "When he came into the room, there was light coming out of his countenance. He was filled with energy and enthusiasm; he was just fun to be around."

Martin's constant student encouragement may have stemmed from his early life, which was plagued with road blocks in the way of his future success. Despite these disabilities, however, Martin did finally achieve a higher education.


A Pitiful Childhood


Martin was born in 1885 in Pendlebury, England. His family's circumstances were extremely meager: four older siblings had died of malnutrition. His mother worked in a factory, his father worked in the mines. "Every disease known to childhood was heaped upon me during the first two years of my life," Martin wrote. He was assigned to a wet nurse when his mother returned to  the factory. Conditions were very unsanitary in the nurse's home and he cried from morning 'till dusk. When his mother actually discovered maggots "at work on my anatomy," she decided to stay home and look after her little boy.

Martin was so sickly that he didn't walk until he was nearly six years old, and when he did he was so bowlegged that he hovered just above the ground. About the time he learned to walk his parents joined the LDS Church. "Things started to improve after my parents joined the Church," Martin wrote. "They seemed to have a purpose in life as they had never before." During his early years in school, Martin struggled. At the end of the third grade, Tommy's schoolmaster said he was "hopeless" and reluctantly let him into the next class.


Working with a future in mind

When Tommy finished the fifth grade he dropped out of school to work in the mines in order to save money to emigrate to Utah. "Go back to school for two more years," said the supervisor. "Thee not very big." Firmly, young Martin declared that he was a Mormon who was saving money to move to America. Once there, he would earn money that would help his family join him, and he would then study to become a school teacher. To this the supervisor said, "Go get the lamp."

When Tommy waddled into the mine with his lamp the miners thought he was an infant. Ridicule and fierce teasing ensued. But, his mother said that he never went into the street that he didn't fight, and he held his own in the pits. By the end of his employment the farewells exchanged among workers were tender and "they almost with one accord said, 'Good-bye, Tommy-lad.'"


Encouraging Words

Dr. Martin
Dr. Martin at his BYU deskl no date recorded. Courtesy of L. Tom Perry Special Collections. Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo,Utah.
In April of 1902 Tommy arrived in Provo at the age of sixteen. He found employment at a dairy where he lived and worked for three years after which his parents and six siblings joined him. Although the family desperately needed his income, Martin's dream of becoming a schoolteacher was still alive. At age nineteen he entered the seventh grade. At five feet tall he was the same size as his classmates.

In the same way that he would later take interest in his own students, Martin's principal noticed Martin's dedication and said, "Thomas, you will get a higher degree in an eastern institution, and you will become a professor at Brigham Young University." Inspired by this statement he went straight from high school to BYU.

Thomas L. Martin's Life: A TimeLine

1885- Born in Pendlebury, Lancashire, England
1891- Started to walk, parents joined LDS Church
1898- Dropped out of school to work in coal mines
1902- Emigrated from England to Provo, Utah
1904- Rest of family arrived in Utah; started seventh grade
1908- Graduated high school
1911- Married Hattie Paxman
1912- Graduated BYU, principal at Big Horn Academy
1915- Entered Cornell
1919- Graduated Cornell with PhD in soils
1920- Taught at Millard Academy in Hinckley, Utah
1921- Joined faculty of BYU
1922- Became U.S. citizen
1923- First student, Rudger Walker, left for PhD
1927- Third student, Ezra Taft Benson, left for PhD
1927- Became president of Utah Academy of Sciences
1935- Appointed Dean of the College of Applied Sciences
1940- Awarded BYU Distinguished Service Award
1950- Hattie Paxman died
1952- Married Irma Patch
1958- Awarded Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Teaching Award
1958- Died in Provo at age 72
1969- Thomas L. Martin Building, the "MARB," dedicated

Martin learned more about the power of encouraging words after he married fellow student Hattie Paxman and graduated from BYU as the valedictorian of his class of eighteen. When he was about to accept a contract for a fourth year as principal of Big Horn Academy in Cowley Wyoming, Hattie said, "No! The first thing you know we will be living here permanently. We have sacrificed too much to give up on this Ph.D. idea." Martin later wrote that he would never have accomplished his life's ambitions if he had not "tied up with Hattie."

Leaving a Legacy

Thomas L. Martin taught at BYU for 37 years, passing on the kind of encouraging words that helped him to never give up on his own dreams. In fact, towards the end of his life he said, "My principle hobby is to encourage the students to go east for higher degrees. I have felt that if they located in different places in the country, they would be centers of Mormonism and Mormon influence."

His hobby turned into legacy, he helped hundreds fulfill their dreams.