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Martin, former north country congressman, dies at 68

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David O’Brien Martin’s roots in the north country ran deep. His legacy may run deeper still.

The former Republican congressman, who represented the north country from 1981 to 1993, died Tuesday night at his home in Hedgesville, W.Va. He was remembered by friends and colleagues for his commitment to serving the region, perhaps best exemplified by his efforts to bring the 10th Mountain Division to Fort Drum in the 1980s.

“For those of us in the north country, his work truly changed our lives,” said Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh — who, like Mr. Martin, formerly represented the region in Congress.

Mr. Martin, 68, was with his family and under hospice care when he died, said Steven M. Cary of O’Leary Funeral Service in Canton. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Services are scheduled for next week in West Virginia, followed by calling hours Dec. 3 at O’Leary, 5821 Route 11, Mr. Cary said. Mass will be said Dec. 4 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 66 Court St., Canton. Burial plans were not finalized as of Thursday evening, he said.

Mr. Martin served in Vietnam, and was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he resumed his studies upon returning to civilian life. He earned a law degree from Albany Law School in 1973, the same year he was elected to the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators.

Following three years in county government, Mr. Martin rose quickly, serving in the state Assembly from 1977 until the end of 1980, the year he was elected to the first of six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

It was just four years later, at the Watertown American Legion post, that Mr. Martin broke the news that the storied light infantry division would be reactivated in Northern New York.

“His incredible effort to revitalize Fort Drum and bring the 10th Mountain Division to our doorstep brought renewed sense of vitality and purpose to the region,” Mr. McHugh said Wednesday.

More than $1.3 billion was spent on construction on the post from 1985 to 1993, during Mr. Martin’s tenure in Washington, according to a 2006 Times article.

“He probably did more for the north country than anyone has,” said former Republican state Sen. H. Douglas Barclay, Pulaski. “It’s a sad day for the north country. He was a great guy, a great friend and a wonderful public servant, both in the Assembly and in Congress.”

While in Congress, Mr. Martin was a member of the Committee on Armed Services for 10 years, serving as senior Republican member of the Military Installations Subcommittee and vice chairman of the Morale, Welfare and Recreational Panel, overseeing military commissaries, exchanges and related activities. He also served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

While Mr. Martin’s commitment to the nation and the region loom large, so do the contributions he and his family made to St. Lawrence County. His father, Edson A. Martin, donated the land for SUNY Canton in the early 1960s. The younger Mr. Martin’s longtime advocacy was honored by the college in 2006 with an honorary doctorate of laws.

“Congressman Martin was a wonderful supporter of SUNY Canton and the north country,” Interim SUNY Canton President Carli C. Schiffner said Wednesday. “He assisted the college in many ways throughout his career, and he dedicated much of his life to furthering the development of Fort Drum, our schools and our communities.”

There was life after Congress for Mr. Martin. After deciding not to run in 1992, Mr. Martin became a professor at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., and later an executive with soft-drink trade groups. He founded a government affairs, consulting and marketing firm in 2000.

It was in that role that then-SUNY Canton president Joseph L. Kennedy observed Mr. Martin’s clout and camaraderie first hand during a visit to Washington.

“He was just known by everybody. He could walk us through security without waiting in line,” said Mr. Kennedy, who stepped down this fall after 19 years in the post. “I admired his spunk.”

SUNY Potsdam also had cause to mourn the former congressman, and to celebrate his accomplishments. Mr. Martin’s papers are held in the college archives, “so that all can remember and learn from his life’s work,” SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller said.

Times staff writer Brian Kelly contributed to this report.

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