By Frederick N. Rasmussen
The Baltimore Sun
Wednesday, March 11, 2009; B05
The Rev. Joseph C. Martin, 84, a recovering alcoholic and an international leader in the fight against alcoholism and substance abuse who was a co-founder of Father Martin's Ashley, a Harford County treatment center, died March 9 at his home in Havre de Grace, Md. He had heart disease.
Father Martin's "Chalk Talk on Alcohol" and "No Laughing Matter" have become standard tools used by recovery centers, schools and employee assistance programs the world over. In the more than 30 years since Father Martin's Ashley accepted its first patient, more than 30,000 people have been treated.
Mike Gimbel, a substance-abuse expert who was Baltimore County drug czar for 23 years and now directs an anti-steroid program at St. Joseph Medical Center, said, "Father Martin has done more to educate and treat those suffering from addiction than anyone in the past 50 years."
Born in Baltimore, the son of a machinist who was a heavy drinker, Father Martin was ordained a priest of the Society of St. Sulpice. He began drinking while he held teaching positions at St. Joseph's College in Mountain View, Calif., from 1948 to 1956, and later at St. Charles Seminary in Catonsville from 1956 to 1959.
"It never occurred to me that perhaps there was something odd about a priest walking toward a garbage dump in the middle of the afternoon carrying two suitcases of clanking bottles," he told the Baltimore Sun in an interview last year.
Finally, the Archdiocese of Baltimore sent Father Martin to Guest House, a Michigan treatment center for the clergy, to get sober. By the time he left Guest House, he had regained his sobriety and found what would become his life's work.
During the 1960s, he began presenting his program at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, rehab centers and private businesses. In 1972, his "Chalk Talk" lecture was filmed by the Navy and later was picked up by the other armed forces where it was used as mandatory addiction training for service personnel.
Father Martin and his blackboard lecture were in demand all over the world, which gave rise to his crack: "Have chalk. Will travel."
Lora Mae Abraham, a recovering alcoholic, became Father Martin's close friend and suggested in 1978 that Father Martin establish a center where alcoholics could come for treatment.
After seven years of fundraising, they acquired Oakington, the former estate of Sen. Millard Tydings (D-Md.) overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. The 22-bed facility opened in 1983 and was named Ashley for Abraham's father, the Rev. Arthur Ashley.
Father Martin, who liked to say, "Give me a blackboard, a piece of chalk and a bunch of drunks and I'm at home," always greeted new arrivals with a hopeful welcome: "The nightmare is over."
Father Martin also made sure that no one was turned away because of their inability to pay for treatment that can cost $20,800 for the 28-day program.
In the more than 30 years since Father Martin's Ashley accepted its first patient, more than 30,000 people have been treated.
After retiring from active management in 2003, Martin continued lecturing patients until late last year.
Michael K. Deaver, former White House chief of staff during the Reagan administration, had been a patient and later served on Ashley's board for a decade.
"When I came to Ashley, I had been with presidents, kings, popes and prime ministers, but Father Martin was the most powerful person I had ever met," Deaver said. "You see, Father has the power to change people, to make them better, to make them whole again."
Father Martin is survived by a brother, Edward Martin of Lilburn, Ga.; and two sisters, Frances Osborne and Dorothy Christopher, both of Baltimore.