Contrarian Columnist Ralph Martin Passes Away

By: E&P Staff

Veteran newspaperman Ralph Martin, a shy fellow in his personal life who delighted in skewering the powerful in print, died Thursday after struggling with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. He was 83.

Martin’s contrarian viewpoint and homespun stylings proved immensely popular with readers of the Knickerbocker News and the Times Union during 32 years writing for both Albany dailies, beginning in 1961.

There was no gray area when it came to Martin and his opinions, which often threw fuel on fires of incendiary topics. Readers either loved or hated Martin’s cranky tone and heavy dose of satirical humor. He never failed to generate a strong reaction.

“Ralph was the all-time No. 1 generator of letters to the editor,” said Howard Healy, retired editorial page editor of the Times Union.

Martin’s newsprint persona diverged from the quiet and gentle gap-toothed fellow Healy knew outside the newsroom. “He’d take people on in print, but he wasn’t aggressive at all face-to-face,” Healy said. “He had none of that ego you expect in a columnist.”

Colloquialisms Martin coined to lampoon politicians gained wide currency: “Gym” Coyne for sports arena catalyst Albany County Executive Jim Coyne; “Admiral” Whalen for the rowing regatta-backing late Albany Mayor Thomas M. Whalen III; and “Padre” for former Gov. Mario Cuomo’s sermonizing speeches.

Cuomo called Martin on more than one occasion to vent over a column, as did another favorite target, former Schenectady Mayor Frank Duci.

Few of the columnist’s targets held a grudge for long, though. Duci even attended Martin’s retirement party in 1993, armed with a proclamation praising his durable newspaper career.

Newsprint and ink coursed in Ralph Whitney Martin Jr.’s veins. His father was Whitney Martin, nationally syndicated sports columnist for the Associated Press and a famous byline from New York City starting in the late 1930s.

Martin fell in love with newspapering during its golden age. He remained old-school, a columnist grounded in the manual typewriter era. After three years in the merchant marine, Martin graduated from Columbia College in 1952 and soon after that began military service during the Korean War.

He worked as an advertising copy writer in New York City and as a reporter at the Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.. In 1961, Martin joined the Knick News as a sports reporter and was later promoted to columnist and sports editor. Seeing Martin’s popularity in the sports pages, Bill Dowd, the Knick’s managing editor at the time, convinced Martin to become a general metro columnist.

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