Longtime Palisadian Dr. Mike Martini Dies, Community Members Share Sentiments
By JIMMY DUNNE | Contributing Writer
Longtime Palisadian Dr. Mike Martini died on Wednesday, October 12, at the age of 97. Community member and Palisadian-Post contributing writer Jimmy Dunne reflected on Martini’s life, speaking with neighbors and loved ones to collect their thoughts and feelings as well.
One of our best passed away this week: Dr. Mike Martini. He died in his sleep in his home for the past 60 years in The Huntington.
If you wanted to know what the heart of the Palisades looks like, all you had to do is look in the eyes of Dr. Mike Martini.
One thing I’m sure of: He’s not a front-page story today in our town paper because of how much money or power he had, or the title on his business card.
He’s a front-page story because of the size of his heart.
Mike was blessed with the whole package. Smarts, a great education, good looks, incredible personality. He could have done anything, anywhere. He chose to make his beloved town his canvas.
Cut to 1950: After meeting the love of his life, Elaine, during his med school days at St. Louis University, they started a family that blossomed into six kids in the quiet town of Pacific Palisades.
In the medical building across from Gelson’s, Mike was the “mini-me” to pediatrician Dr. Russell. After a few years, his boss retired and handed the keys of the business to Mike—an up-and-coming pediatrician with a love of kids and reverence for community.
If you were a kid between 1 and 21 living in the Palisades, “Dr. Tini” was your old-time country doctor still making house calls.
“Mike made house visits for our kids, day and night,” said Norm Serra, a close friend who lived next door to Martini for many decades. “And he’d charge us practically nothing. I don’t know how he did it.”
“He was always my hero,” said his son Dick, who grew up in the Palisades and is now the Monsignor at St. Joseph’s in Carpinteria. “During so many family dinners, he’d get a call about a kid that needed him in town—leaving his meal on a ‘warming plate.’ He’d care for others first—that was the essence of my dad.”
When he wasn’t making house calls or handing out polio vaccines, he was stirring the soup in every group and organization in town.
He was a founder and past president of the Palisades Optimist Club and their “Optimist of the Year.” Red Cross named the Martini Blood Drive after him.
“When he knocked on your door raising money for one of a dozen things, you knew he’d end up looking right in your eyes with his baby blues and a big ol‘ smile saying, ‘Can I count on you?’’’ said Mike McRoskey, a neighbor across the street. “How could you possibly say ‘no’ to Mike?”
He was the commander of the American Legion Ronald Reagan – Palisades Post 283, and he delivered so much more than meals to so many older adults with his “Meals on Wheels.”
Mike was on the YMCA Board of Directors in 1965 when it opened its doors in town; he was Palisades’ “Citizen of the Year” in 1967—and the town’s “Honorary Fire Chief.”
Monsignor Kidney called Mike a “founding father” of Corpus Christi Parish. He’s worn every hat a parishioner can wear at the school and church, including teaching sex education to the kids.
Mike and Elaine were the Palisades’ Parade Marshals in 1990, and Mike is legendary for his underwear shenanigans on the infamous Optimist’s Drill Team.
Every Monday morning, rain or shine, you’d find Mike at UCLA Medical Center giving communion to all the Catholics in their rooms.
“Talk about devotion? His wife Elaine was very sickly and on oxygen for 18 years,” said his neighbor Delores Fritzsche (and mother of seven of his patients). “Mike was always right there by her side until she passed away.”
“No doubt about it, his favorite thing in the world was the sleepovers at his house with all the grandkids,” Dick said. “He just loved spoiling them all.”
Here’s the amazing part. He never, ever stopped. Not in his 70s, his 80s or his 90s.
At 97, he found a way to hang on to the carousel of life—when, for most, it feels like the rest of the world is spinning far, far too fast.
“Mike was really proud to be the decade-running winner of the ‘Duffer’s Award’ as the worst golfer in the Optimist’s tournament,” a great buddy Richard Wilken said.
“Mike delivered ‘Meals on Wheels’ all the time to my mom when she had dementia,” Palisadian Natalie Villabanca said. “He’d show up at our door, full of zip, saying, ‘I’m here to bring your mom dinner and a smile.’”
“Don’t let that smile fool you,” Serra said. “He was competitive in everything.”
He loved his Dodgers, his UCLA football; you name it. Golf. Tennis. And then the motherlode—bocce.
“I don’t care that he was 97,” said Norm Beegun, a teammate on the “Martinis.” “He was one of the best in the league at Veterans Gardens. Two on our team would prop him up to make sure he wouldn’t fall over—and then he’d roll shots none of us could do.”
“He wouldn’t miss bocce for the world,” Peter Schermer said. “He’d call me up to help sneak him out of the house and drive him to the park.”
The highest honor in the Veteran Gardens leagues is the “Martini Award.”
“You can’t imagine,” neighbor Maria Molloy said. “It meant everything to Mike.”
If a man is measured by the love, time and selflessness he unconditionally gave to his children through the arc of a lifetime; if a man is measured by the adoration, unwavering commitment, loyalty and respect he gave his wife; if a man is measured by the depth of lifelong, rich relationships with great friends; if a man is measured by the difference he made in his life’s calling along the way; if a man is measured by the footprints he left in his community …
Then Dr. Mike Martini was a giant of men.
If you get a chance, take a drive through Mike’s neighborhood and you’ll find hundreds of lamp posts—all of them adorned with red, white and green ribbons for Mike.
A lamp post. To guide you. To bring you light. To welcome you. To remind you how truly beautiful your town truly is.
You did that for us, Mike.
You’re our lamp post. You’ll always be a lamp post in our lives.
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