Updated: Jul 8, 2021
Eulogy by Chris Rigaux - first presented at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, Saturday, June 26, 2021
Martha Jane Thomas was one of the most beautiful souls I ever met. She had the incredible gift of being able to connect with all types of people on a real, substantive level. She is the only person I know who called New York City "the last small town in America." When I asked her why, she said New York City is so big and everyone is so busy, that you have to get to know your neighbors, your grocer, your dry cleaners, because you were always having to ask favors of people. Only Martha would turn New York City into a small town.
We went to New York once, when we were driving to see her family in Maine the day after her mother died, Feb. 5, 2020. She asked to take the wheel of my car as we approached the city. She scoffed at me when I say that driving a Tesla takes getting used to. She mentioned driving a 12-gear Mercedes in a cross-country road race and assured me she could handle it. Next thing I know we are going like 70 through New York City, switching lanes and crossing bridges, while she fools around with the Sirius radio looking for the Stephen Sondheim station because, you know, it's Broadway. That reminds her that she hasn't spoken to her friend David Loud in a few months, so she rang him up while driving because some how she still had her phone in her hand. David picked up and told her he had a show opening in May and Martha would have tickets waiting for her. Martha promised to be there. No one could multi-task like Martha.
We met on a dating site we called OKStupid. We were both ready to quit all the inane conversations when we bumped into each other. She sent me a one-line message: "I'll hike the Billy Goat Trail with you." That ended up being our second date. This was in December 2019, and I was going away to Bend, Oregon, for Christmas, but I had two tickets to a fundraiser in Potomac for Amy Klobuchar on Jan. 7 and would she like to come? She responded "I know Amy Klobuchar." I responded bullshit. But she did actually know Amy from her time working for the City Paper in Minneapolis. Martha knew everybody.
Our romance was like Martha's driving: fast and furious. In March 2020, Martha had moved to Easton, and we were concerned they were going to close the Bay Bridge because of the pandemic. So I had to choose between my mom in Rockville or Martha in Easton. Sorry, Mom. I rented an airbnb in Easton and moved with my daughter Valerie and my dog Coco and lived in Easton for three weeks. In the rental house I found an old DVD: "You've Got Mail." So I invited Martha over to watch it. In the movie, Tom Hanks plays a bookstore executive who is opening a big box bookstore just around the corner from a small independent bookstore run by Meg Ryan. The movie was filmed in the part of Manhattan that Martha had lived in. She knew every coffee shop, grocery store, street fair, and posh restaurant shown in that film. Martha didn't like romcoms in general, but she liked that one. Rich businessman falls in love with plucky independent bookstore operator: sure, that happens.
We planned to rent a house in Easton and live together for a year before getting married. But there weren't any good rentals available in Easton. So like everything else we did, we acted decisively. Martha had scouted out the historic downtown of Easton, and determined that Brookletts Avenue was the best street to live on. One Saturday, she talked me into coming to Easton to look at houses on the market ("Just to get a sense of what's out there, you know, and to see what it costs, not to buy anything"). We spent two hours visiting six houses. Two days later she called me up. "We have to buy that house on Brookletts Avenue." We had spent maybe 15 minutes walking through the house. But Martha knew what Martha wanted.
Martha loved words, but her favorite word of all was "curate." Although she was the director of the Flying Cloud, she really wanted to be the Curator of the bookstore. Martha told me that we could only live together if she could curate the interior of our house, from where the furniture went to deciding which books would be displayed in which bookshelves, and of course, where all the artwork would hang. Martha has a brilliant art collection. And she easily could have been an interior decorator if she wanted to. One memorable night, she even told me she wanted to "curate" our conversations. She didn't want us to waste our time just talking about the news of the day; no, we would have serious conversations on different topics each night. She, of course, would choose the topics.
Here are 10 Interesting Facts About Martha
10. Martha owned 124 cookbooks, including The Blue Strawberry Cookbook: Cooking (Brilliantly) Without Recipes.
9. Martha and I both agreed the greatest short story ever written was "The `Dead" by James Joyce.
8. In her freezer, Martha always had a supply of Wyman's Wild Blueberries from Maine; she claimed they were the best in the world.
7. At the age of 59, Martha began to pursue a master's degree in fiction writing. She intended to write a series of young adult fiction novels based upon her family, the Tarbells.
6. Until the pandemic stopped her, Martha intended to celebrate her 60th birthday by going to the Dolomites in Italy and skiing from one cabin to the next for a week.
5. A consumer of all media, Martha had subscriptions to three newspapers, four magazines, eight podcasts, six streaming services, and Audible books: 132 titles remain on her iPad.
4. In Martha's estimation, the New Yorker is the greatest magazine ever written. She would frequently give away gift subscriptions.
3. Martha's personal record for solving the New York Tomes crossword puzzle is 20 days in a row.
2. Martha loved Evie, but she adored Ollie.
1. Martha was so very proud of Mary.
After she got cancer, she told me she finally knew why I had come into her life. "You are my angel to guide me through this." The thing is, Martha was my angel too. She taught me that I could still be loved and loving, even after the passing of my wife of 30 years had left me bereft. She took me to Easton in the bucolic Eastern Shore, getting me out of over-crowded Montgomery County. She taught me how to live again, to laugh again, and to love again. May you all one day share a love like I had with Martha.