Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SAYING GOODBYE: To Bernie Martin, Columbia's Beloved Postman

There are those who will tell you that Barbara G. Bishop got the most votes of any challenger during the 2008 August Democratic primaries not because of her fiery platform for the office of Boone County Assessor nor because of her solid credentials, ready smile, energetic style, or natural ease around We the People.

No, there are those who will tell you that Mrs. Bishop, a virtual unknown running against a mightily-funded 20-year incumbent, pulled nearly 6,000 of 14,000 votes cast on that muggy late summer's day for one reason: the man by her side, Bernard "Bernie" Martin, otherwise known around Columbia and Boone County as a widely-loved, decades-long member of the US Postal Service, Columbia Mall branch since 1997.

Bernie Martin died suddenly of an apparent heart attack last week. He had just returned from a hunting trip, "doing what he loved," Barb said. "He bagged a 10-point buck and couldn't have been happier."

A 36-year Postal Service veteran, Martin was also a Vietnam veteran awarded a Bronze Star for valor. At his funeral in Pilot Grove last Saturday, where a standing-room-only crowd of some 200 friends and family said goodbye, faded photographs of Bernie and his in-country squadron lay on tables of memories that captured his life.

Bernie Martin looked like Ernest Hemingway, and loved hunting, fishing, and what Hemingway called "the graceful, macho arts." Martin had a graceful touch too, which helps explain all the photos of children on that table of memories, playing and smiling around this macho, gentle man.

I saw Bernie's graceful touch after a campaign parade through downtown Columbia. We had walked back to our cars, parked on quiet side streets in the fading afternoon heat. I was putting my son in his car seat and I looked through the rear view mirror.

Bernie and Barb had stopped at the driver's side door of their Jeep, all sparkling and parade patriotic.

He was kissing her delicately, with her chin at the tips of his fingers. I showed my son. "They're smooching," he said.

Bernie had thrown himself with such gusto into his wife's campaign -- marching alongside her in every parade; knocking on every door in small towns like Centralia and Hallsville in the exhausting, oppressive heat; believing in her and in the fundamental American freedom that campaigns represent -- the freedom to choose leaders he had defended so many years before.

It was a nice respite, that kiss. A nice pause on the trail of the free.

I turned ever so quickly to buckle my son and though I didn't hear anything -- no starting car nor anyone driving away -- when I looked back in the rear view mirror, Barbara and Bernie were gone.

"Think about it," was Bernie's signature expression, and think about it I have.

What a perfect image for a goodbye, where the last thing my son and I saw that day was a gentle expression of love and belief.

RELATED and photo credits:

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Thanks for posting this. I have interacted with Bernie the Postman since I moved to Columbia in 1989. One of my favorite people to do business with, he will be greatly missed.