TUPELO — This winter, 75-year-old Harry Martin, freshly retired from the Community Development Foundation, where he worked for 52 years, presiding over it for the past 44, sat down to take a broker’s exam.
As the real estate tests were handed out, the instructor casually mentioned that first time test-takers had only a 40% pass rate. Nearly two-thirds were doomed by the law of averages to take it at least twice.
Martin passed, proving it’s never too late in life to start a second career.
“I took the required college courses, took the broker’s exam and passed it on the first try,” Martin said. “I was quite proud of that.”
Martin’s daughter, Janet Martin, established Janet Martin Properties in Tupelo in 1988, as a solo operation.
“I never worked for anybody else,” she said. “I was never an agent. I graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in real estate, took the broker’s exam and got started.”
When it became a family business, Janet’s business was incorporated into a partnership, Janet Martin & Harry Martin Select Properties, PLLC. But here’s a switch: she’s the senior partner.
“I’m really thrilled to have Daddy work for me,” Janet Martin said. “He’s quite an asset.”
Last March, Martin announced his resignation at CDF, effective when a replacement was found. In an agreement with the board of directors, he stayed on board for several months after David Rumbarger took over as president last August. In April, Martin officially joined his daughter in business.
“Janet’s our only child, and we’re a very close family,” he said. “My wife and I are still active and in good health. At least the doctors give us good checks. (He laughed.) Janet had an extra office in her suite of offices, and I moved into that. I don’t want 100% of my time spent in it, but I can give her assistance on a day-to-day basis. With my knowledge and experience, I think I can be a great help to her.
We’re having a very good time, too. And it keeps me from having too many honey-do lists around the house.”
Martin said the joint venture has also given him a chance to get to know his daughter again.
“With CDF, I lived such a life of schedules — day, night, seven days a week, traveling and everything — I knew her when she was little, but then when she got away and went to school, got out on her own and into the business world, and I didn’t see her,” he said. “To tell you the truth, it’s been real nice for me to get back here and get to know her and work with her every day. She’s very pleasant to work with.”
He said they wouldn’t take on the role of being a developer.
“We have basically two roles: a buyer’s agent and a seller’s agent,” he said. “We don’t like to be dual agents, but if a special situation calls for it, we will. If a client wants us to find a business, site or property, we’ll do a study and find it. In residential, we do special cases, like estates, but it’s very limited. There are companies here already that specialize in that and do it well. We can do it, but it’s not on our list of things we want to do right now.”
Martin added, “We’re specializing in business and industrial projects on a select basis. Tupelo has had quite a bit of commercial property growth and development, and Janet’s been very active in that. We’re not trying to build the biggest real estate agency in Tupelo, or trying to compete with all the agencies here. We’re not trying to list and sell all real estate. We just want to handle select projects for select clients and give them good personal and professional service.”
Martin remains active in the community, serving on the state workforce training council and working with Global Outreach International of Tupelo, a interdenominational mission organization with operations in several countries. Martin is assisting Global Outreach with the purchase of Galsjo Bruk, an 18th century iron mill in northern Sweden, now a conference center, to use as a missionary retreat. He recently traveled to Olive Branch to attend a TVA board meeting. But he’s pickier now about extracurricular activities.
“I feel like I’ve paid a heavy part of my debt on my civic responsibility, if that’s possible,” he said. “I feel like I should have, in the last few years of my life, a choice in what I do. But you might call me actively retired.”
Martin reminisced about the changes in Lee County’s economic landscape since he started at CDF on Oct. 1, 1948.
“When I first got there, Lee County was purely agricultural — cotton and dairy,” said Martin, who worked in CDF’s agricultural economics program for eight years before taking over as president. “I did 4-H club work and knew all the young farm kids. When the mechanization of the farm started and farms became very large, I saw the need for off-farm employment. In the 1950s, CDF was very active and aggressive in bringing plants here, and the industrialization of Lee County — now the most industrialized county in the state — is what’s made it the economic power it is today. I see a lot of those folks every day, who were kids then. They’ll come up to me and say, ‘thanks for helping me get that job. I’m retiring now.’ And I say, ‘congratulations.’ That’s the thing that’s given me the greatest amount of satisfaction.”
As president emeritus, Martin said, with a laugh, it means he’s “not officially obligated to do anything, but they can call on me whenever they need me.”
“CDF’s in super shape,” he said. “David Rumbarger’s a great president. I’m going to stay out of his way, but help him any way that I can. I think CDF is refocusing its efforts and that’s good, because occasionally that’s what’s needed to keep moving forward. I’ve got a great deal of confidence and faith in the economy in North Mississippi. I just believe it’s going to be one of the bright spots in the state for years to come.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 853-3967.