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Douglas Martin (1927 – 2020)

Douglas Martin (1927 – 2020)

On September 28, 2020, Douglas Martin passed away at the Hazelton Place Retirement Residence at the age of 93. He was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada from 1960-85, serving for most of those years as its general secretary from 1965-85. From 1993 to 2005, he was an elected member of the international governing council of Baha’i community, the Universal House of Justice.

Born in Chatham, Ontario on February 24, 1927, Mr. Martin was raised in a Presbyterian family. He began his life along a conventional path: studies in business administration and a successful career in public relations.

In the spring of 1953, Mr. Martin attended a series of “fireside” talks on the Baha’i Faith in Toronto at the home of John and Audrey Robarts. On his way to their home one evening, he sat down on a park bench to reflect on what he had learned of the Baha’i Faith. He was suddenly seized by the realization that the Baha’i Faith, with its emphasis on world unity and the oneness of humanity, and its principles of the equality of women and men and the harmony of science and religion, would over time, win to its allegiance the hearts and minds of the peoples of the world. He then walked over to the Robarts’ home, having decided to give his life to the advancement of the Baha’i Cause.

A few months after enrolling in the Baha’i community, he met his future wife, Elizabeth. They married in 1956 and moved to a series of localities in southern Ontario as part of the growing expansion of Baha’i communities throughout Canada. He gave up his public relations work, and accepted work as he could teaching school.

Mr. Martin’s intellectual interests turned to history during those years. It was  an interest that, in subsequent years because of his ability to discern the forces of world history affecting the course of development of the Baha’i community, was of immense value in his enormous contribution, both in writing and speaking, to the intellectual and cultural life of the rapidly evolving Baha’i Cause.  Earning a Master’s Degree in history from the University of Waterloo, in 1968, he and Elizabeth moved to Saskatoon so that he could undertake doctoral studies under the well-known Canadian historian, Hilda Neatby. His re-election, however, as Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly meant that he and Elizabeth returned in 1970 to live in Toronto, close to the Baha’i National Centre, an administrative service which prevented his completion of doctoral studies.

Mr. Martin was resolute and determined in carrying projects forward. He had a gift for the aesthetic, for public relations and combined a fine sense of management with an academic and intellectual curiosity. He championed the role of Indigenous members of the Baha’i community and was keen to do all he could to learn French and support the emergence of a vibrant community of young Quebecois Baha’is. Following the Iranian revolution in 1979, he was at the forefront of an effort to resettle thousands of Baha’is fleeing religious persecution. Mr. Martin also took the lead in organizing the Montreal International Baha’i Conference in September 1982, attended by 10,000 Baha’is.

During those years Mr. Martin was a founding member of the Association for Baha'i Studies, serving on its international executive committee from 1974-85. He also published articles and scholarly monographs and lectured widely on the Baha'i Faith. He co-authored, with Dr. William S. Hatcher, "The Baha'i Faith: The Emerging Global Religion," published by Harper & Row and later by the US Baha'i Publishing Trust.

In 1985, he was invited by the Universal House of Justice to serve as the Director-General of the Baha'i International Community's Office of Public Information at the Baha'i World Centre in Haifa, Israel. In that capacity, among other services in organizing the public information work of the Baha’i Faith, he served as the editor-in-chief of "One Country," a Baha'i international news magazine, and "The Baha'i World," a series of annual reference volumes. He was also asked by the organizing committee of the successful Baha’i World Congress that brought 30,000 believers from around the world to New York City in 1992, to write the underlying “narrative” of the four-day program of that event.

In 1993 he was elected to the nine-member Universal House of Justice, the supreme authority and governing body for a rapidly expanding Baha’i world community, serving until his retirement from that body in 2005 when he returned to Canada.

His wife, Elizabeth Martin, passed away in 1999. He leaves no children, and his only close family, his sister, predeceased him by several years.  He does, however, leave a huge family of close and loving friends throughout Canada and the world, along with several generations of Baha’is and friends of the Baha’is who will with grieving hearts not long forget Douglas Martin and the impact he had on their lives.