A Man In Control
I am sat opposite Martin in his sitting room looking out over a beautifully kept garden. He is quiet, reflective and considered and has for the past six years been Chairman of Trustees for the Samson Centre for multiple sclerosis and so I pose the question, “In three words how would you best describe the qualities you bring to your role as Chair?”
A gentle smile passes across his lips. Intuitively he has the measure of me and knows that I will already have chosen my own three words. Now he contemplates the question and how closely our thoughts will match. He ponders a while, not because it troubles him but simply because he wants to beat me at my own game.
He provides the first two answers ‘balance’ and ‘fairness’ and then there is a pause before he finally delivers his third word ‘cohesion’ and immediately we both know that he has laid the trump card. Sadly, his word and not mine but it absolutely sums up what he brings to the role. Martin is the glue that holds it all together.
Having overseen the building of the new physiotherapy suite and about to embark on the charity’s most ambitious project yet, that of completing a new extension to incorporate counselling quarters as well as increased oxygen therapy capacity, what has brought this man to where he is today.
Perhaps it can be said that ‘control’ has been at the core of his adult life. Whilst never controlling, he is a man who knows his capabilities and how far he should push himself before handing the baton to someone else. Therefore he remains in control.
In his early twenties, having embarked on a Civil Engineering degree at Sheffield University he soon realised that he had embarked on the wrong path. He stayed for two years and made the most of his time by becoming chair of the students’ entertainment committee and arranging weekly discos and bands to entertain some twelve to thirteen hundred students. He learned disciplines that have remained with him for life facilitating: the sharp end of negotiating, motivating, influencing, managing, listening, appreciating when to wade in and knowing when to watch from the side lines. After that second year he took away from the university far more than he gave up. “It was the 70’s,“ recalls Martin. “What wasn’t there to learn! Not only were there the students to entertain (and have escorted off the premises at times!), you also had the bands, security staff, the bar and even drugs to contend with. Anything went or it would have done if you’d let it! You certainly had to have your wits about you.”
Having walked away from his degree, HM Customs and Excise beckoned where he worked as a VAT Inspector until an internal document caught his eye shortly after a posting to Birmingham. “‘Normal rules don’t apply’ it said and immediately I was intrigued since it was providing a double benefit. Firstly the possibility of relocation and then the added bonus of training in a career in IT,” Martin remembers. It was an opportunity he seized with both hands.
Computers suited Martin and in 1984 after five years with HMCE, having become an accomplished programmer, he was ready to move onwards and upwards. Beginning with the Milk Marketing Board he had found a career that would see him move through the ranks to Project Manager and finally to IT Manager for Unigate covering the UK HQ and St Ivel European Foods Division. Extensive travel was required and Martin was flying backwards and forwards to European destinations as well as visiting the many UK offices and depots.
In the meantime Martin was to face a situation of a different kind and something by his own admission that hit him like a bolt from the blue. “I remember the day, the room, the consultant and his exact words all so vividly. But not the day before or the day after,” he tells me. It was 1995 and Martin had just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. That such a minor symptom as neck pain could herald the onset of a life-altering condition was indeed a bombshell.
“The pain was eventually eased by the use of steroids and I even remember tiling a bathroom on them,” he smiles, which reveals a very real sense of fortitude even in the most trying of circumstances. “All in all I remained in pretty good shape for the next four years,” he ends.
Everything started to change in 1999 when Martin’s symptoms began to present themselves in earnest. “I’d just returned from working in France and as one flight touched down I boarded another plane the very next day en route to Italy for a family holiday. Unfortunately, I had left France with more than my suitcases, catching campolybacter, a nasty form of food poisoning. Although I rested up in Italy, it had knocked me for six and from that point on I started to rely more and more on the use of a walking stick.”
Within eighteen months, Martin’s mobility had deteriorated further and constant travel and flights were becoming problematic. “I asked to be moved from my position and revert back to project management and therefore have a base in one office.” This was agreed and Martin was supportive of the work of his successor and equally was very much left to operate autonomously. When Dairy Crest bought the section of Unigate he worked in it they were also very helpful and ensured that the facilities he needed to work in his wheelchair were available to him.
In 2007, aged 53, Martin elected to retire due to his ill health. This meant that he remained in control and as ever his decisions were running ahead of his symptoms.
Shortly into his retirement Martin happened across a leaflet about the Samson Centre for multiple sclerosis and his first thoughts were “why didn’t anyone tell me about this before? Living just a mile away and knowing nothing about it!”. Within a week of first seeing the leaflet Martin had joined, soon thereafter became a Trustee and then two years later took on the role of Chairman of the Trustees, a position he still holds today.
“The Samson Centre is such an amazing place for people living with multiple sclerosis. It provides physiotherapy, exercise and oxygen therapy all within a supportive and welcoming environment. It also offers an excellent opportunity to talk to other people who have a real understanding of living with what is essentially a progressive and debilitating condition.”
In Martin we see a life with balance, humour, travel, entertainment, health, charitable commitments and his two grown up children all playing important roles. This year he and his wife Eda are cruising round the Baltic Sea which will see them both onshore and offshore as they take in the coastlines of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Russia. Previously they have taken a Safari in South Africa, visited Crete and Cyprus as well as spending holidays within the UK. They enjoy the theatre, eating out and quality family time. Eda is calm, sensitive and also has her own part-time career.
I am looking out over to the greenhouse on the left and Martin is sitting in his electric wheelchair. I ask him who looks after their garden. This time I know the answer before he tells me, “it’s Eda.” It doesn’t surprise me in the least as I capture a garden that is their haven and something they can enjoy peacefully together. I just knew a gardener wouldn’t be involved. A lovely private space to look out over and enjoy with no interruptions, suggestions or intrusions from the outside world.
If you would like to help Martin to help even more people who are living with multiple sclerosis visit our donations page or text “SCMS02 £10” to 70070 to donate £10 and help people fight their MS.