By Clint Confehr
COLUMBIA, TN — Vice Mayor Dr. Christa Martin is a self-described introverted “farm girl” and private person serving a public college at its highest levels. Now, after 30 years, she’s leaving elected office on her own terms.
In 1992, when Barbara McIntyre, Columbia’s first female mayor, appointed Martin to the unexpired term of the Ward 3 councilman, Martin was on nearly a dozen boards. She still is. Elected to council in 1994 and vice mayor eight years ago, Martin says elected office “is a multi-issue public service job” and busy people get things done by working with others.
Maury County has 105,000 people; 43,000 in Columbia. Maury’s former county mayor is running for Congress in a district dividing Nashville through reapportionment. Much can be done for this community. Martin has promoted a new fire hall, better police headquarters, a new city hall, school partnerships, expanded parks, and the first Tennessee municipality to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for city employees. Martin was asked, broadly, about large issues.
“I’m not happy about the divisive tactics that are going on in our communities in Tennessee,” she said. “I sit on state boards and commissions. We see things. We experience things.” And, “There’s more work to do and I’m not going away. I’m just not running for re-election for vice mayor.”
She’s not telling her “next step.” Her record shows how she’ll serve.
“I love teaching Sunday school,” Martin says as an elder at New Smyrna Cumberland Presbyterian Church. “I just love the Lord and he had Jesus who has a servant’s heart.” Her missionary work here is personal, collaborative and responsive to needs of all kinds. Her father was an elder. Other relatives are pastors, preachers and evangelists in every denomination.
Martin is the assistant to Columbia State Community College President Janet Smith for access and diversity, a job likened by Smith to that of “an associate vice president,” an executive position throughout CSCC for students, faculty and staff. She’s more than an advisor, Smith says with “great respect” for Martin’s community leadership. “She has made a great difference to our community and as a leader at Columbia State” because of her knowledge of community, diversity, and “the differences of experience by various groups and cultures.” CSCC hired her in 1979.
Dr. Martin is “so invested in educating the masses” (as she puts it), that as a recognized trailblazer she has the gravitas to praise instruction and keep it in perspective when discussing what’s needed for success.
“It’s important to know that education is a key — one of 10 on the key ring” — to open doors, she said. “Passion and love and respect for whatever it is that you are going after have as much weight because it is going to drive you beyond the place that education can get you.”
“But I dare say that I grew up in a household where education came in knowledge of the farm … the road … the community,” she said. That dairy and tobacco farmland is at Cliff Amos Road. “You didn’t have to have letters behind your name to be educated.”
That’s comparable to Gov. Bill Lee’s approach and many others in state and local government when speaking about economic development. Interacting with county political leaders was part of Martin’s relatives’ farm and retail work.
She spoke while working toward more funding for CSCC. The plush frog on a shelf behind her is the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority mascot. She pledged AKA in 1987 while in graduate school at Middle Tennessee State University. Facing three computer screens, she explains what’s changed most in four decades. “There is a shorter time-frame of attention.” People “have an expectation for a quicker return to the request.” Covid forced reliance on technology. Hired as a computer programmer analyst, she was promoted in 1984 to director of computer service. In 2003, CSCC President Dr. O. Rebecca Hawkins promoted Martin as the president’s first executive assistant to formulate programs and implement strategies for every department’s rules and regulations on access and diversity.
Maury County NAACP Branch President Paco Havard is “glad” Martin is in City Hall because she “understands the value of having good principles… It hurts that she won’t be there anymore.” Martin “has got to do other things,” Havard said. “I understand… You can’t be somewhere forever.” He admires her for more than being the first African American woman in Maury County to be the vice mayor.
Martin is a founding board member of the Columbia Peace and Justice Initiative, a non-profit celebrating the legacy of African Americans in Maury County by exploring history, promoting justice, expanding understanding, and inspiring conversation for a better community. CPJI is honoring Martin with a Legacy Luncheon at noon, Wednesday, Nov. 2, in the Memorial Building at 308 W 7th St., Columbia to raise money for the organization’s programs. CPJI Treasurer Juli Beck (email@example.com) says tickets are free and limited, and people will have an opportunity to contribute at the luncheon.
Dr. Martin isn’t running for re-election because “the time is right,” she says, “for me to refocus my talents, treasures and attention to some other things that are important in life that are singular and yet have a community-wide impact.”