James G. Martin (1935 – )

Written By North Carolina History Project

Born on 11 December 1935, in Savannah, Georgia, James Grubbs (Jim) Martin was the second son of the Rev. Arthur Morrison Martin, a Presbyterian minister, and Mary Grubbs Martin. The Martin family traced its origins to Dorchester, Massachusetts; later ancestors moved to Dorchester County, South Carolina, and eventually to Sunbury and Midway, Georgia.  When Jim was two years old, his father accepted a pastorate in Winnsboro, South Carolina; Winnsboro would be Jim’s home until he left for Davidson College in 1953.  The Martin family eventually included four sons–Arthur, Jr., a pathologist; Jim, a chemistry professor; Joseph (deceased), a Bank of America executive with a Ph.D. in medieval English literature, and Neal, a librarian. All four brothers graduated from Davidson College and all four earned doctoral degrees.  

Jim Martin attended Mount Zion Institute, a small public high school in Winnsboro, where he excelled as an end in football (second team all-state), basketball guard, and chemistry student. It was largely because of the influence of W.R. “Monk” Price–his principal, football coach, and chemistry teacher–that Jim decided to pursue a scientific career. Martin’s non-athletic high school pursuits included Beta Club (state president), newspaper, annual, and tenor in the school’s glee club. He also played the tuba and later performed in the Charlotte Symphony.

Martin continued to experience success at Davidson College, where he was a member of Beta Theta Pi Social Fraternity and Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Society. He also played freshman football, served as Interfraternity Council Treasurer, and continued his musical pursuits.  During the summer following his junior year, Martin worked as a chemist for Enjay Chemical (now part of ExxonMobil) in Linden, New Jersey; it was there he became acquainted with the chemistry department at Princeton University.  After marrying Dorothy (Dottie) Ann McAulay in the summer of 1957, Martin began graduate work at Princeton.  A Danforth Fellow, he earned a Ph.D. in 1960; “Stereochemistry of the Diels-Alder Reaction” was the title of his dissertation. While at Princeton, Martin counted William G. Bowen, a graduate student in economics and later president of the university, and future Davidson English professor Anthony Abbott among his friends. Dottie Martin worked in Princeton’s Industrial Relations Department during her husband’s graduate years.  

Martin returned to Davidson in 1960 and served as a chemistry professor there for twelve years.  He helped initiate the multidisciplinary, humanities-based “Blue Sky Curriculum” and advised the Davidson College Republicans. A strong advocate of two-party government, Martin ran unsuccessfully for the Davidson town board. In 1966, he was elected to the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners and served until 1972; he chaired the commission from 1967 to 1968 and in 1971. Martin helped implement the Centralina Regional Council of Governments and served as its first chair. In 1968 he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Miami. From 1970 to 1971 Martin served as president of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.

In 1972, Martin was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served there until 1984. He was one of six Republicans representing North Carolina. The others were Earl Ruth, Wilmer Mizell, Eugene Johnston, Howard Coble and James (Jim) Broyhill, Jr.  Martin was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee (sixth senior member) and chaired the Republican Research Committee. This placed him fifth in line among the Republican House Leadership group. In Congress he was a staunch and effective opponent of nuclear freezes.  Also of note was his opposition to an attempt by the Food and Drug Administration to remove saccharin from food products. Drawing on his training as a chemist, Martin argued that saccharin would shorten the average human’s life by a mere 23 minutes. While in Congress, he joined some of his Republican colleagues in the Chowder and Marching Club.

In 1984, Jim Martin decided to run for governor of North Carolina; he was opposed in the Republican primary by Ruby Hooper, retired food services director at Broughton Hospital in Morganton. Although Martin defeated Hooper, he later appointed her deputy secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Resources. On the Democratic side, five individuals vied for the gubernatorial nomination: Lieutenant Governor Jimmy Green, Attorney General Rufus Edmisten, Charlotte Mayor Eddie Knox, Insurance Commissioner John Ingram, and former Commerce Secretary Lauch Faircloth. Martin obtained the largest number of votes of any gubernatorial candidate, defeating Rufus Edmisten in the general election. In 1988, he was re-elected, this time outpolling Lieutenant Governor Robert (Bob) Jordan. This contest was particularly noteworthy because Martin’s running mate, James Carson (Jim) Gardner, was elected Lieutenant Governor, the first Republican since 1896 to win this office.  

As governor, Martin focused on roads and education. He fulfilled a promise to finish Interstate 40; the highway, which connected Tennessee to Wilmington, was completed in June 1990. Governor Martin also urged tax increases to fund North Carolina’s schools. Assisting him in his endeavors was the election in 1988 of conservative Democrat Joe Mavretic as speaker of the North Carolina House; such action gave the governor both Republican and Democratic allies in the General Assembly.  Martin also laid the groundwork for a gubernatorial veto, something his successor (and predecessor) James B. (Jim) Hunt would enjoy. (North Carolina’s governor did not obtain the right to veto bills until 1996.)

Martin’s other accomplishments included Operation Haylift; through this undertaking, North Carolina farmers obtained hay and feed from their midwestern counterparts during the 1986 drought. During five years of Martin’s administration, North Carolina led the nation in economic development. His tenure also witnessed the net creation of 500,000 new jobs, an unprecedented increase in the percentage of the state budget committed for education, the introduction of foreign languages into the K-5 public school curriculum, and total immersion language training for elementary teachers. Conversely, Martin failed to obtain a gubernatorial veto, a teacher career ladder, and a centralized radioactive waste dump for North Carolina.

Governor Martin left office in 1993 and began a career at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. From 1993 through 2000 he was vice-president for research, and during the period 2000-2008, he served as Vice-President for Government Relations. He became senior adviser of the firm, McGuireWoods Consulting.  In addition to his three children, James, Jr., Emily, and Benson, Martin has four grandchildren—-Kathren Martin, James G. Martin, III, Carter Richey, and Rosalie Richey. An active Presbyterian layman, the Governor is also a 33rd degree Mason, a Shriner, and accomplished sailor. He has also served Beta Theta Pi as a Davidson chapter advisor, national vice-president and national president (1975-1978).