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Obituary of Jean Varley Martin
Jean Martin, 70, beloved Iowa City activist and grassroots organizer died Monday, May 16, 2011.
Jean Martin came to Iowa City in 1959 to attend the University of Iowa, after graduating from Wheaton Community High School in Wheaton, Illinois where she was raised. Jean stayed in Iowa City and became deeply involved in community activism. As a single mother who worked two jobs, she still devoted countless hours to progressive causes throughout the city. As one award she received noted, Jean was “a community activist of unparalleled dedication, never in the news, but always in the background of every grassroots effort for social justice.” After fighting multiple myeloma for five years and receiving a second bone marrow transplant on her 70th birthday, Jean died at home surrounded by family and close friends.
Jean was the first female employee of the University of Iowa Motor Pool, and worked a second job at the Lark Supper Club to supplement her union wages for most of her adult life. Back before there was a collective bargaining agreement, Jean fought for and helped win equal pay for a handicapped employee at the UI Laundry. She was instrumental in establishing comparable worth pay at the university in the 1980’s, helping to equalize pay for female dominated job classifications.
Jean was an active, long-time board member and hard-working volunteer for many organizations in Iowa City, including the American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees (AFSMCE) Local 12; the Emma Goldman Clinic; Environmental Advocates and Iowa Shares; Girl Scouts; Iowa City Federation of Labor; Iowa City Senior Center; Iowa City Stop Wal-Mart 2005-2006; Johnson County Democrats; New Pioneer Food Co-op; Project Green; SpiritHill and SpiritVision; Women Against Racism; and the Pre Vocational Training Program for low income women, and the Women's Resource and Action Center (WRAC).
Jean received many honors for her commitment and dedication to the causes she helped further. She was honored on the Prairie Progressive Honor Roll for 1999; received the Jean Y. Jew Women's Rights Award in 2000, honoring outstanding effort or achievement in improving the status of women on the University of Iowa campus; received the award for outstanding labor leader of the year from the Iowa City Federation of Labor AFL-CIO in 2003; and was named Johnson County Democratic Party Pioneer Democrat in 2007.
Day after day and year after year, Jean was invaluable to the events of the Iowa City Federation of Labor. According to City Fed, she defined the word “labor.” She was instrumental to the Labor Day picnic, the spring legislative-League of Women Voters breakfast, the chili supper with legislators, 4 H Fair booth, the Mail Carriers’ Food Drive, and every Democratic event where Iowa City Fed was involved. As Jeanne Stoakes says, “Jean was the driving force, the commander everyone looked to for direction, the person who organized the troops to get the work done, the vice president who gave compliments when due but was outspoken enough to let you know when you were wrong.”
Jean was an instrumental member of Environmental Advocates since its beginning in 1987 and represented EA on the board of Iowa Shares, a statewide coalition of social change, environmental and cultural nonprofit organizations raising funds through workplace giving. In this organization, as in everything, Jean did whatever needed to be done. She served at various times as the Vice-Chair, Treasurer, Secretary, and EA representative to the Iowa Shares board.
“As a board member, she was always willing to raise the sensitive questions that needed to be discussed and to work when others would not in order to get a job done,” according to Katy Hansen.
At the Iowa City Senior Center, Jean was a member of the Program Committee and helped with its two year transition into a participant-based steering council and work committee structure. She was a volunteer leader of courses and programs, a member of the Senior Center Commission and Steering Council; a volunteer building supervisor, coffee shop baker; and quilt raffle volunteer, stepping in to help whenever she saw a need.
Described by many as a dedicated and selfless volunteer, Jean Martin truly gave of herself to better our community. According to Rod Sullivan, “Jean was committed to social justice, and she was willing to stand and fight. But she also did what she could do personally. The whole idea of ‘think globally, act locally’ is embodied in her spirit.” Dear friend Tom Jacobs says: “Jean Martin has been a true heroine and pathfinder, fighting and breaking many barriers for women in the skilled trades and for union women, as well as working on environmental issues, gay rights and many other causes.” Jean will be sorely missed, but her lasting legacy of friendship, commitment, and involvement will carry on.
Jean is survived by her daughter Greer Dempster and son-in-law Patrick Willcutt of Minneapolis, MN; daughter Mary Martin of Iowa City; sister Fran Block of Berkeley, CA; brother Dix Varley and sister-in-law Carol Varley of Becker, MN; and nieces and nephews from around the country. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to any of the organizations that Jean supported listed above, or to the Iowa City Animal Shelter. A memorial service to celebrate Jean’s life and legacy will be scheduled at a later date. Jean requested that she share herself to benefit many through the Deeded Body Program at the University of Iowa. Online condolences may be sent for her family through the web @www.gayandciha.com. Gay & Ciha Funeral and Cremation Service is caring for Jean’s arrangements.