Willis Jefferson Martin was born in Decherd, Tenn. and raised in Gary, WV. He graduated Cum laude from Bluefield State College in W. Va. and held a teacher’s certificate award by the West Virginia Board of Education. He did two years of graduate work in economics at the Catholic University of America, and earned his J.D. from Georgetown University Law School in 1956.
His work life was rich and varied. He toiled as a coal miner in the mountains of West Virginia at the age of eighteen, then served in the U.S. Navy from 1943-1946. He was a Military Intelligence Analyst in the Air Research Division after being a Librarian Assistant at the Library of Congress, earned his Real Estate license, and became an Economist and Statistician in the Office of the Secretary of the Army.
His longest affiliation was with the U.S. Department of Labor, where in 1965, he was named the National Industrial Training Advisor of the department’s Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training. His appointment there ensured there would be no further discrimination against Black men and women at the Department of Labor. He retired as chief of the Division of Older Workers in 1985 after 30 years.
Mr. Martin was unwaveringly dedicated to helping those in need on and off the job, and was a staunch defender of equal rights of all. He was a driven and vocal volunteer and member of such organizations as C.O.R.E., the NAACP, the Urban League, the United Mine Workers of America, and the United Way of the National Capital Area, where he served tirelessly for over fifteen years in many capacities, including chairman. He was also a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ.
Mr. Martin was preceded in death by his parents, Effie and Napoleon Bonaparte Martin, three brothers and a sister, and his beloved wife of fifty-two years, Henriene Topps Martin. He is survived by his children, Willis J. Martin III, Angela Martin, Lynn Martin, and his four grandchildren, Antar and Aziza Tichavakunda, and Penelope and Alexandra Segerdahl. He is also survived by his siblings McKinley Martin, Fannie Martin Smith, Pamela Butts, Elizabeth Smith, Alice Martin, Francis Martin, Phillip Martin, and numerous nieces and nephews.