That was how Tony Martell of Madison, NJ summed up his deep loss following the death of his wife, Vicky Martell, on Saturday night, Feb. 20, at their home on Garfield Avenue following a long illness. Mrs. Martell was 88.
With her husband, Mrs. Martell was the co-founder of the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS Research. She also served as the former longtime choirmaster at St. Vincent Martyr Church in Madison.
“She was always for the underdog,” Tony Martell said. “She always took the part of the weaker person. She loved people.
“She was my mentor, my lover, my friend. She was everything to me.”
Vicky and Tony Martell founded the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS Research following the death of their son, T.J. Martell, of leukemia in 1975 at the age of 19.
Tony Martell said many people were unaware of his wife’s key role in the foundation. “She worked hard,” he remarked.
“I like to think that she and my son are together. If there’s a heaven — and I know there is — they’re there.”
Over the years, the foundation the couple named for their son has raised more than $270 million for leukemia, cancer and AIDS research — which has been successfully leveraged into several billion dollars in additional funding from larger funding sources.
Vicky and Tony Martell also have been closely connected with St. Vincent Martyr Church. Mrs. Martell, described as an “enormously talented singer,” served the church as choirmaster for some 25 years, leading four choirs.
But that was not the whole of Vicky Martell’s dedication to the church, Tony Martell remembered.
“She was so devoted to the church. She bought choir robes. She bought the church a Clavinova,” a digital piano that also is capable of imitating the sounds of a large array of instruments, such as strings.
St. Vincent Martyr School was “enthralled” by the church’s Clavinova, “so she bought them one,” Tony Martell said, adding, “She bought 1,000 hymnals for the church. She put a new sound system in the church.
“She did so much. Whatever the church needed, she was at the table to give.
“I used to call her a plainclothes nun.”
Mr. and Mrs. Martell knew one another for 66 years — and were married for 64 of them.
The couple both hailed from the Scranton, Pa., area. She was not only a remarkable singer, but a talented trumpet player in a big band, and she immediately captivated Tony Martell, who worked in those days at a radio station.
“The first night I had a date with her,” he said, “I told her I was going to marry her.”
Through the T.J. Martell Foundation, as well as private efforts, the couple labored for four decades to improve the lives of countless cancer patients and their families. As Mrs. Martell grew ill, it was not always easy, but “she never complained,” Tony Martell said.
“Thank God she died peacefully.”