JOANN BERRY MARTIN died on February 9, 2022, after 88 years of life, filled with love, devotion, and service to others. Once her husband and sons had gathered around her at home, she passed peacefully.
Born July 9, 1933, in El Dorado, Ark., daughter of Allan and Mildred Berry, Joann found her first passion in music and theater. A gifted singer and actress, she seldom missed a production. Musical groups and plays in high school and college provided many wonderful times. “If there was a stage, I wanted to be on it!” she said.
She graduated from Little Rock High School, later Central High, in 1951, and attended Hendrix College, where one day walking across campus she encountered the love of her life, Garth Martin. They were happily married for more than 69 years.
After Joann spent her youth years at Winfield Methodist Church, she and Garth moved west to Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church, where they were stalwart members for 60 years. Joann was a mainstay in the church choir and her Sunday School class which, each year, would perform plays from the Samuel French catalogue, like “Arsenic and Old Lace” and “Death Takes a Holiday”, to the delight and reverence of all who saw these wonderful, intimate productions. She even persuaded Garth to join her in “See How They Run”. She went on to perform in many productions of the Little Rock Community Theater, including a show-stealing performance as Eulalie McKechnie Shinn, the mayor’s wife in “The Music Man”, and another family undertaking that included Garth and son Greg, in A.R. Gurney’s “The Dining Room”. A fitting capstone to her acting career was her 1988 appearance in two episodes of the hit TV show, “Designing Women”.
She undertook these activities while raising three sons and often working, first at administrative jobs for private companies, and later for the county judge. Her long volunteer career naturally began as a PTA officer, Cub Scout den mother, and church youth program leader. She went on to hold membership and board advisory roles in many of the civic and cultural organizations in Little Rock, including PHUMC, CARTI, Youth Home, Family Service Agency, Arkansas Chamber Singers, and the Hendrix College Alumni Association.
She then embarked on her most fulfilling work, as a passionate and tireless volunteer in the political arena, where her love of the limelight and her commitment to public service found their highest expression. She was a force behind the scenes in Arkansas politics for decades. Among other duties, she was an Area Supervisor for the Pulaski County Election Commission, Vice Chairman of the Pulaski County Democratic Committee, and was appointed by the governor to the State Volunteer Advisory Committee.
Joann’s political ardor culminated with her participation in Bill Clinton’s journey to the White House. “I was there at the old paint store on 7th Street, made all the moves that followed, and after Bill’s 1992 presidential election victory, I ran the Arkansas Advance Office when the President came to Arkansas,” she said. She was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention, in San Francisco, in 1984. She was also a member of the Arkansas Travelers, who traveled to various states to campaign for Mr. Clinton during the 1992 and 1996 campaigns. She also helped make the Clinton Presidential Center, in Little Rock, a reality. In the first year of the library’s existence, she was honored to be the No. 1 volunteer, working a total of 835 hours. She and Garth were a reliable and beloved presence at most of the significant political functions and events of the era.
But Joann’s deepest devotion, the constant object of her love, instruction, and example, and the source of her greatest joy and pride, was her family. Her schoolteacher mother and coach father instilled in her an appreciation and respect for scholarship and athletics that she passed on to her boys. And she made it a point to know her sons’ teachers and coaches. Her efforts were magical and ceaseless. Each morning, there were three piles of freshly washed athletic gear for the day. The family station wagon sported curtains so the boys could change out of their wet swimsuits, and sleep on the way around the annual swim circuit that served as the summer vacation: Jonesboro, Fort Smith, Warren, Monticello. Later, the voyage became the pilgrimages to Nashville to watch Vanderbilt get trounced once again by its mighty SEC opponents. All along the way, she passed down the principles learned from her parents: schoolwork comes first, show up on time, give your all, don’t complain, support your teammates, and be gracious in victory and in defeat.
In later years, she was able to travel the world with Garth: Europe, the Holy Land, China, Russia. She also stepped up her voracious reading habit, consuming a book every few days, with a particular fondness for modern fiction. And finally, of course, she became an energetic and devoted grandmother and great-grandmother, one whose presence was always cherished.
“Dancing at the White House, appearing on Designing Women, seeing the world with Garth, and being blessed with three wonderful sons, eight wonderful grandchildren, and three beautiful great-grandchildren – the world has truly been my stage,” she said.
She is survived by her husband, Garth, her constant companion of 69 years; her son, Doug and his wife Melanie Masino; sons, Greg and Richard; her grandchildren, Cory Grummer (Jacob), James, Brett, Haven, Jeremiah, Jonathan, and Walker Martin, and Kye Masino; and her great-grandchildren, Rhett, Lane, and Martin Grummer. She is also survived by her brother, Allan Berry, Jr. (Sharon); and her first cousin, Scott Lawrence (Betty).
A celebration of Joann’s life will be held at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church, 4823 Woodlawn, in Little Rock, at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, February 15. A reception will follow. Masks are optional but preferred. The service will be live-streamed at www.phumc.com/live.
Memorial donations can be made to the Martin Family Youth Endowment at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church, 4823 Woodlawn, Little Rock, Ark., 72205 (www.phumc.com/giveonline), or to a charity of your choice. Arrangements are under the direction of RuebelFuneralHome.com.
Published February 13, 2022
OBITUARY SUBMITTED BY:
Ruebel Funeral Home
6313 West Markham Street, Little Rock, AR