Dr. Martin C. Needler
1933 – 2019
Professor, Dr. Martin C. Needler (Marty), who died in Monterey, CA on June 15, was a charming, multifaceted cosmopolitan – a “man for all seasons” – all times and places, languages and peoples. Extraordinarily brilliant and talented, he was a renowned scholar and prolific writer, best known internationally for his path-breaking work on Latin America. He was also a poet, actor, singer, composer, and a lifelong activist for peace, justice, and human rights.
Born in 1933 and raised in England, ducking German bombs, Marty moved to the United States at age 15. After assimilating enthusiastically in Denver, he went on to get serious at Harvard and earn his BA with “Magna Cum Laude.” An interlude passed of serving the US Army in Germany, while marrying Lore Heyman and beginning a family with their first-born, Steve, before returning to Harvard for his Ph.D. There his experience with World War II and his assignment in Germany lead him to write his dissertation on Hitler’s 3rd Reich. The relative inattention, however, by US scholars to the rising hunger for democracy redirected his focus to the Western Hemisphere. Thenceforth his promise of prominence blossomed into early success in demand for his research, writing, and teaching.
Though the greatest source of hope in Latin America and fear in the US emanated from Cuba, Marty was more forcefully drawn to the hows and whys and consequences of the earlier, successful revolution of the Mexicans. The insightfulness of his analyses and interpretations was such that he was regularly cited by Mexican journalists and political leaders.
Dr. Needler’s observations and advice on relations in the Western Hemisphere were sought out by US leaders as well, in the Foreign Service Institute, State Department and Congress. But his insistence that the ideals and interests, strategic and economic, were more compatible with the democratic, populistic and leftist governments that would emerge if the US did not conspire to block them than with the de facto military regimes more commonly favored and/or sponsored. Not surprisingly, he often found himself on the far side of the great divide in US positions with respect to official policy and undercover action. Even so, he was recommended by a presidential advisory commission under the Carter administration for an ambassadorial appointment.
After graduation from Harvard and a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA, Marty spent about six years teaching at Dartmouth College and the University of Michigan, along with a research appointment back at Harvard. But having spent his youth cold and wet in Manchester, he had always longed for blue skies and sunshine, and in 1966 the opportunity to follow that dream arose. He accepted directorship of the inter-American affairs division at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. There he was gifted with a second son, Daniel, even as his marriage had begun to crumble.
From his position in New Mexico, Marty took on leading roles in new programs and organizations focusing on Latin America around the country. Almost a decade later, as a board member of the first such national organization, the Latin American Studies Association, he was invited to Washington, DC to keynote the conference of an older regional organization, launched with a reception at the Library of Congress. On that enchanted evening, as Marty liked to remember it, the eyes of the VIP met those of the Hostess across a crowded room, and so began the second half of his life.
A year later, in 1976, Dr. Martin Needler was married to Dr. Jan Knippers Black by her father, The Judge, in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. As diversified cultures go, one could hardly get more diverse than a British, Jewish, Harvard scholar and a Peace Corp – infused Southern Belle. Fortunately both Marty and Jan relished diversity. Both had traveled far and wide before they met, and with the reinforcement of partnership – of commonality of interests, goals, curiosities and compulsions – they doubled down; researching, , lecturing, monitoring, advising and participating in seminars and conferences. They crisscrossed all continents and covered more than 150 countries in their time together.
These and other adventures included teaching on Semester at Sea and senior associate memberships at St. Antony’s College, Oxford. For Marty, there was trusteeship as well for St Antony’s US outreach, and for Jan, six years on the national board of Amnesty International. From these rich experiences emerged many books, 14 at least for each, building upon lessons from the Western Hemisphere to compare and contrast with those of a wider world. Marty’s awards and recognitions were too numerous to list, but a greater satisfaction for him was finding that so many political leaders, not to mention distinguished scholars, around the world had read and been influenced by his work.
In 1990, Marty retired from UNM and accepted the deanship of a new School of International Studies at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He commuted for eight years to Monterey, where Jan had become a professor of international policy at the Monterey (now Middlebury) Institute. After retiring from UOP and moving in with Jan at their beach house on the bay, Marty took on a third career. For most of the next decade he was a regular singer and actor at Monterey’s Wharf Theater, and on the side, with Jan, writing and composing music and musical comedies.
Marty’s has indeed been “A Rich and Valued Life,” as his memoir (available on Amazon) is titled. His last few months were spent trying to follow up with a sequel to be entitled “My Life with Jan.”
Marty is survived by his wife Jan, his two sons, Steve and Dan, two granddaughters, Sarah and Chardonnay, his older sister Glo McNeill, and a multitude of cherished nieces, nephews, and cousins.
A celebration of his life, “Marty’s Going Away Party,” took place on July 20, 2019 at 5:00 p.m. at the Middlebury Institute’s Irvine Auditorium at Pierce and Jefferson in Monterey. A reception with concert follows. All friends and fans are invited.
Donations in Marty’s memory may be made to the Community Foundation of Monterey County (2354 Garden Rd., Monterey, CA 93940) for a Martin Needler and Jan Black Fund to be established for support and public sharing of music and the performing arts. Please make out checks to CFMC, with “remembering Marty” on the memo line.