Deborah Stewart Martinson lost her battle with cancer on Saturday, passing away peacefully while surrounded by family and friends at her Burbank home. She was 67.
Martinson was born May 20, 1946 and raised in Fillmore, California. She married her husband, Barry Martinson, in 1970, and they made a life together as residents of Burbank for over 43 years. Martinson was planning to celebrate her 50th high school class reunion this upcoming June.
An avid tennis, football and baseball fan, Martinson also developed a passion for reading mysteries, detective stories and submarine thrillers at a young age. She cited “Suspect” by Robert Crais as her favorite mystery and the inspiration for her own mystery novel that she someday aspired to write.
Her reading interests sparked a career in writing and literature. Martinson attended Cal State Chico as an undergraduate before receiving her master’s degree from Cal State Northridge and her Ph.D. in English Literature from USC.
Martinson came to Occidental in 1991, eventually becoming a professor of Writing and Rhetoric and Director of Writing Programs until her death. As a biography, autobiography and fiction specialist, she focused on the biographies of those she referred to as “complicated women,” publishing titles such as “Lillian Hellman: A Life with Foxes and Scoundrels” and “Virginia Durr: Southern Radical Come Hell or High Water,” the latter based on the life of a white civil rights leader in Alabama.
Working predominantly as a creative writing professor, Martinson reached her students through the written word. She served as a summer faculty fellow at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts and was an instrumental figure in the creation of the Oxy Writing Network — a thriving on-campus organization — for the past two decades. Martinson was the 2009 recipient of the Todd and Linda White Teaching Prize and continued to teach creative nonfiction throughout the 2014 spring semester despite her diminishing health.
Colleagues have said that Martinson “lit up when she entered the classroom,” had a knack for storing future stories away in her head and was always genuinely interested in the lives of others.
She is survived by her husband, Barry; daughter Hope; son Jay; four grandchildren; and her German Shepherd Tina Fey, her loyal companion until the end. Most importantly, Martinson is survived by the infectious personality that she conveyed through her various writings, pulling on the heartstrings of the many whose lives she touched and guided.
A memorial service is scheduled for this Friday, May 2 at 11 a.m. at Faith Community Church, 461 Central Ave., Fillmore. A celebration of Martinson’s life for Occidental students, faculty and staff will take place at the start of the fall semester.