Memories of a mentor

Memories of Mentor Martin (Marty) Oordt

Marty Oordt – Distinguished teacher

A sense of loss is to be expected when someone in our lives passes away. When the deceased person has been a mentor we are fortunate to be able to offset some of those losses with a recognition of what has been gained – all the riches of wisdom and experience that the mentor contributed to our lives.

That was my experience recently when writer, editor and teacher Martin (Marty) Oordt passed away after complications from a heart attack.
 
Back in the late sixties, Marty came to a new university in the dryland country of southern Alberta after earning his doctorate in English at the University of Kentucky. At The University of Lethbridge, he not only taught English and Creative Writing but mentored young writers like Peter Christensen, Yvonne Trainer and many more.

He received the university’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1996. Marty also played a lead role in starting a campus newspaper, a literary magazine and a writers’ collective.
 
He was a writer himself and a catalyst in the fledgling prairie literary community. Marty was always on the hunt for projects and ideas. He and his wife Mary published Lethbridge Living magazine for ten years after Marty retired from teaching.
 
Those were the external accomplishments. As a person, Marty was a big man in all the best senses – a huge presence in a room, a personality who brought people together, an open and welcoming person. 
 
He agreed to serve as my Faculty Advisor in a free-wheeling independent learning program at The University of Lethbridge – a program that unfortunately disappeared when liberal arts took a turn towards ‘practical’ learning in the 1980s and 1990s.
 
Every week for two years I sat down with Marty, read poems, talked poetics, mused about craft and generally shot the breeze. He was the kind of editor who could guide your writing with kindness and subtlety.
 
When I think of Marty’s own skills with words I see a master craftsman. I always imagine him a woodworker. His large hands would turn a piece, examine it from all angles. Take an edge off here, add a bit of polish there.
 
His suggestions always grew from possibilities. “What would happen if you started the poem here?” he would ask. Or “where do you think that image could go?”
 
Beyond the poetry, he saw the poet, or the would-be poet – the person. He pulled his chair up close, sat knee-to-knee, and locked his eyes on you. He cared. No absent-minded multi-tasking.
 
In Marty’s world, poems mattered. Poets mattered.
 
“But hang on there, Daniel,” I can imagine him interjecting. “You make it all sound so damn serious.” And he would laugh, reminding us serious poets that life was a lark, that we could ponder the universe with a twinkle in the eye.
 
At readings, he would stand at the back of the room in his favourite green cowboy boots and shout out encouragements. Yvonne Trainer remembers the voice: “Give ‘em hell, Trainer!”
 
You knew the cheerleading, the caring, the support was authentic because it spilled over, beyond the campus, past graduation, into the ordinary days and weeks and years of our lives. He kept in touch.
 
Whenever our paths crossed, on the phone or in writing or in person, I could count on Marty to say, “damn, it’s good to hear from you!”
 
When someone like Marty Oordt passes away, we often wish we had had more contact, more recently.
 
Did I do enough to pay him back? To thank him for his contributions to my life?
 
Our debt to mentors like Marty is a human debt. By that I mean, it’s not just between him and me. It’s between generations.
 
We each have a finite number of hours on the planet. To invest a significant number of those hours in another person is a selfless act.
 
The ‘pay it forward’ concept suggests that we invest in people for future benefit. Implicitly, the mentor gets some payback down the road.
 
But really it is an investment in humanity. Marty’s joy of discovery, his willingness to explore and create, his fondness for collaboration, his fine eye for the well-turned phrase: these are not things that he gave expecting any big return.
 
They are qualities he shared with the world. Thanks to mentors like Marty Oordt, we carry these riches forward.

Martin Oordt  1938-2011

 

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh, Lorne. This is beautiful. I feel like I somehow knew Marty by the heartfelt way you wrote about him. The green cowboy boots, the analogy of him as a woodworker, sanding and polishing away. This tribute is so beautifully written and something I’m sure he’d be smiling as he read.

    I particularly love your message: “We each have a finite number of hours on the planet. To invest a significant number of those hours in another person is a selfless act.” Indeed, this is what life should be all about. And I’m sure he knew how grateful you were! – Melissa Crytzer Fry

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