William R. “Bill” Martin

WEEMS—William Raymond “Bill” Martin, 83, died peacefully at home in Weems on February 25 with loved ones around him.

Bill was born to Mary Anna Coates Martin and Clyde Davis Martin in Philadelphia in 1939. Clyde was an electrical engineer for Philco Corporation; he died of tuberculosis in 1945.

Bill attended Collegiate School in New York City, studied mechanical engineering at Lehigh University, and earned his M.B.A. at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Bill Martin after climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in 1997.

Bill loved trains. In October 1953, as a young teenager traveling alone, carrying a signed note from his widowed mother declaring he was not a runaway, he saw Trains magazine on a newsstand. He got a subscription in December 1953 that he continued for the rest of his life. Soon, he started joining fan trips. In some New Jersey stations where they still used steam locomotives, the workers would let him and his friends climb onto the locomotives and explore.

“Trains have been featured in folk songs, in large part because they represent travel and freedom,” Bill said in an unpublished oral history interview. “Railroad locomotives are magnificent machines and get more so every year.”

But Bill Martin didn’t just love trains—he worked on them. After college, he started as a mechanical engineer on locomotives for the Pennsylvania Railroad. He worked in truck leasing, got an M.B.A., and then worked for the Association of American Railroads as part of a team of people credited with saving the railroad industry in the 1970s.

At Southern Railway, he helped navigate the merger with Norfolk and Western Railway that created Norfolk Southern Corporation. There, he negotiated financing for major purchases, such as engines. “I like to tell people I started out getting locomotives fixed and ended up getting them paid for,” he said.

He would also make reports and recommendations to the board regarding acquisitions. But Bill didn’t like being stuck behind a desk. When he needed to talk to a colleague below him in rank, he didn’t call them into his office, he took a brisk walk to theirs. He retired as assistant vice president of finance at Norfolk Southern in 1995.

“I’ve always had a love of machinery and a feel for it,” he said in the oral history interview. “I’ve operated everything from a 250-ton locomotive crane to race cars, racing motorcycles, mile-long freight trains in the mountains — which makes it more interesting. All kinds of machinery except for airplanes.”

He also loved the wilderness and enjoyed many hobbies. In high school, he played guitar in a rockabilly band. In college, he discovered car racing and won trophies for hill climbs in his Corvette, with no special safety equipment except a crash helmet and a fighter-pilot seat belt from an army surplus store. In the early 1980s, he built a computer at home from a kit. Later in his life, he traveled to all seven continents and over 100 countries. He climbed Mount Rainier, Elbrus, Aconcagua and Kilimanjaro and attempted Everest. He volunteered for the Virginia Stage Company and as a safety crew member for the Mid-Atlantic Roadracing Club during motorcycle races at Summit Point, West Virginia.

In 2013, Bill was honored with an award as a longtime donor to Rappahannock Community College. He told the award committee, “Simply by educating people, you give them the tools that enable them to improve their own lives.” A lifetime music lover, he subscribed to the symphony most of his adult life and was a consistent major donor to the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

Mourning the loss of Bill Martin are his partner of 24 years, Pamela Russell; son James and daughter-in-law, Victoria Hilton-Martin of Royersford, Pennsylvania; daughter, Mary Frances and son-in-law Robin Causey of Chino Valley, Arizona; daughter, Suzy of Philadelphia; and grandchildren, Rayne, Arietty, Tennyson and Melissa.

The family will not be holding a service. Memorial contributions may be made to the Kilmarnock-Lancaster Volunteer Rescue Squad at P.O. Box 333, Kilmarnock, VA 22482.