Appreciation: For Kelly Martin’s friends, it will be hard to move on

There is a paradox connected with Kelly Martin’s death.

She is mourned as a person of uncommon enthusiasm and empathy. Her friends and colleagues, often one and the same, share their memories of her fondly.

Yet, as Elaine White, Director of Housing at Bridgewell also says, “she would want everyone to move on. You have to move on.”

White would perhaps know that better than most. As a program director for what was then known as Greater Lynn Mental Health, she hired Martin fresh out of her freshman year at Suffolk University. From there, Martin rose to the level of chief executive officer at Bridgewell.

“I have pretty much seen her almost every work day, apart from vacations and things like that, for 35 years,” White said. “Her death is a tremendous loss, both professionally and personally.”

Martin was only 53 when she died Aug. 18. Friends and co-workers praised her dedication to Bridgewell, but her infectious enthusiasm and her commitment to the people she served.

The love affair with GLMH/Bridgewell began almost immediately, said Rita

McAteer, Bridgewell’s director of development and marketing.

“Kelly was really hooked from the time she came here,” said McAteer, who called Martin one of the best mentors she ever had. “She even changed her major to social work, and came on board full time upon graduation. We celebrated her 35th years of employment this year.”

Jim Cowdell, executive director of Lynn’s Economic Development Corp., was the COO at GLMH when he first met Martin.

“She was one of my very best friends,” he said. “She was a tremendous success story. She started out in an entry-level position, and worked every job there. When I left, she replaced me. Then, she became the CEO.

“She was one of the best people I ever met,” said Cowdell. “And she was loyal. When I say that, I mean loyal to her family, husband (Sean), her daughters (Alissa, Kayla and Paige Johnson), her professional career, and our clients. She was 1,000 percent dedicated to the folks who were less fortunate.”

Both McAteer and White say Martin was instrumental in the rapid expansion of Bridgewell from a small business to a $72 million social services organization.

“Bridgewell was one of the first agencies to develop day programs and services at home for people with autism,” McAteer said. “That’s something Kelly led through the last eight years or so. She saw that division grow tremendously.”

“When you work someplace for 35 years, you’re on the forefront of a lot of things,” said White. “Kelly helped homeless people, helped to find affordable housing. She didn’t have a quality assurance department, and she helped create one here. She helped develop our autism program. She was on the forefront of so many innovative programs.”

But with all her professional accomplishments, it was her personality that shone through all of it.

“She loved to laugh, and had a beautiful laugh,” Cowdell said. “She was the type of person who, after you talked to her, you always felt better.”

“She was a very warm person,” McAteer said. “I was always struck by the warmth in which she dealt with people in our services who had developmental disabilities. She connected with them on a one-on-one basis so well.”

“Kelly had that magnetism,” said White. “One of her endearing qualities is that she was loved by so many people. They were drawn to her. She had a beautiful smile, and she had style and grace.

“She was mission-driven too. She made this her life’s work. She lived it and breathed it.”

Yet Martin certainly found time to live a full life outside the office too.

“She loved to travel, and do things with her family,” White said. “She loved music, and concerts.”

White added that Martin would have definitely been at Gillette Stadium this past weekend to see Country Fest and Kenny Chesney.

“She loved him, loved to see the country, loved to entertain, loved gardening … it’s safe to say that everything she did, she did with gusto.”

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