The Oklahoman: OKC recognizes Debi Martin for keeping council running

By William Crum
Published: January 21, 2018

Oklahoma City Council Chief of Staff Debi Martin speaks with Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer, left, and Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell on Jan. 4 in the council offices at City Hall. Martin has led the staff supporting council members since 1987 and recently was recognized as the city’s employee of the year for 2017. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN]

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It could be said nobody has more friends in Oklahoma City than Debi Martin.

As the city council’s chief of staff, Martin keeps the north wing of City Hall’s third floor running smoothly, bringing the newly elected up to speed and keeping the confidences of veteran politicians.

And after 45 years of service to the city and community, there is no sign she is slowing down. On any given day, she is likely to be among the first to arrive at City Hall and among the last to leave.

“I love what I do,” she says, “and this does not seem like work.”

The council recognized Martin this month with a resolution noting her service to the city and her selection as the 2017 South Oklahoma City Kiwanis Club city employee of the year.

The accolades filled a page, but if one stood out it was her success in “making lifelong friends in every ward throughout the city.”

Martin remembers when council members’ accommodations at City Hall consisted of a room with two corner desks and a round table with a telephone.

Relocating to an office with a door, desks and two telephones was a big deal.

After renovations in the 1990s, Martin said, the council occupied its current third-floor space with an office for each of the eight council members.

From where she sits, Martin sees a city government led by elected leaders who “work as a team, are committed to service, and are able to develop and support initiatives that build a city for all.”

That could be because Martin’s record of community service rubs off on whoever she meets.

She began the First Tee youth golf program in 2002 and, many Saturdays through the year, can be found at First Tee’s learning center at the James E. Stewart municipal golf course.

She has staffed the city council and Oklahoma City Public Schools’ Joint Education Task Force and manages Reading Buddies, which matches more than 100 mentors recruited from city staff with public schoolchildren.

Martin co-chairs the funding and sustainability committee for the Oklahoma City Family Justice Center.

She says the project is important to her, as she began her career at the state prison women’s facility in McAlester, where many of the inmates she worked with had been victims of domestic abuse.

Martin, 72, was born in Bluefield, West Virginia, and moved as a toddler to her grandparents’ cotton farm near Muskogee, where she grew up with a brother and cousin.

She remembers celebrations of her great-grandfather’s birthday and her grandfather firing up the tractor at 4:30 in the morning to begin the work day.

After her mother remarried, the family settled in El Reno, where she graduated from high school.

Martin earned a criminal justice degree from the University of Oklahoma and began work in McAlester.

It was in McAlester that she met her husband, Mike, a Marine stationed at the Naval Ammunition Depot, now known as the U.S. Army Ammunition Plant. They met and married in three months, just before his first of three tours of duty in Vietnam.

After her husband returned from Vietnam, they lived at Camp Pendleton, California, then returning to Oklahoma after the birth of their first child.

She and Mike had been married 46 years when he died in 2015.

Martin introduced four of her grandchildren — William, Grace, Cade and Ashlyn — to the City Hall crowd at the employee of the year ceremony.

Martin says her determination to serve others grows from her faith, her grandmother’s living example, and her husband’s love, courage and perseverance.

How would she like to be remembered? That she “walked this Earth and made a difference,” she said. “That’s what I would like to have said and that it be real.”