Farewell Conrad Martin

A man of spirit, in every sense: that was Conrad Martin.

A man of spirit in the bright sense that there was always laughter, enjoyment, inclusiveness around him. He used that spirit well, to create engagement with others – and to help others engage with themselves, too.

A man of spirit in the perhaps literal sense that I rarely saw him without a drink somewhere nearby. Hardly surprising, as alcohol was his profession: a lead sales-manager for Guinness, then Taunton Cider, and eventually in his own right as an export consultant for that trade, with experience valued worldwide. Drink helped to fuel the joie de vivre that he created so easily around him, yet he also knew well how to use it as a tool without the dangers of being used by it.

A man of spirit, too, in that he was a committed explorer of spirituality, both his own, and shared with others. His later home was built on the site of the 1920s writer and mystic Dion Fortune, at the foot of Glastonbury Tor; he apparently reused Dion Fortune’s old wooden workspace as the core of his office and study, a lovely little building next to the main house. I never had much chance to discuss with him his ideas about astronomy, astrology and the like, but he certainly knew it well, in a careful, consistent yet also joyful way.

I’ll admit I didn’t know him all that well: to me he’d been one of the many great ‘characters’ who peppered the Glastonbury scene when I lived near there some thirty to twenty years ago, and then occasional visits to see him and his partner Jan during the couple of decades I lived in the US and Australia. But the Glastonbury community – the ‘Glastafari’, perhaps? – turned out in droves for him: there would have been well over a hundred people at his funeral in Taunton yesterday. His sons Russell and Adrian – entirely appropriately! – sent him on his way with a bottle of cider apiece in the chapel, each raising a toast to him several times as they gave their familial eulogies, and said their family goodbyes.

I knew he’d struggled hard with Parkinson’s disease for the past few years: not good, so in some ways good to see it end. Yet he’d had his family with him, too, and Jan’s unstinting care, all through that time when it mattered most. And he’d lived large and loud, for a good life, of more than seventy years, and shared with all; helped a good many people in his own engaging way as well. A good legacy to leave, that.

My last image of him, from perhaps five or six years ago, on one of my later visits over from Australia. I’d been to see Jan first, over in the main house, and then walked up the steep concrete steps up to his study, overlooking Glastonbury’s Chalice Well. The Parkinson’s was just starting to take hold, so walking was already beginning to be hard; but his reflex greeting was unchanged, welcoming in with a glass of wine: talk, listen, explore, talk, listen, be.

A friend I barely knew, I suppose, yet a true friend nonetheless. Go well, Conrad – and wherever you go, may it be with a glass in one hand, and laughter in the other!

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