GCU mourns loss of a 'gentleman extraordinaire'

Dr. Val Martinez (left) was so loved by his Government students, they celebrated their graduation with him.

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

Humberto Ramos had the highest praise for a former teacher.

“I only wish I could take another class from him,” he said. “It was a tough loss from my end.”

Ramos is mourning the loss of Dr. Val Martinez, who died Feb. 23. The instructor of Government at Grand Canyon University was 68 and is survived by wife Nancy. He also leaves behind legions of GCU students who loved the stories of his former career as a foreign diplomat.

“He was able to give you advice based on his experience and what moves to take to be successful,” said Ramos, who said Martinez helped lead him to his career as a caseworker for U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona.

Ramos said Martinez always had time to speak to him bluntly about what he needed to do to accomplish his goals.

“Sometimes it’s not the critique you want but the one you need to move forward,” said the 2019 graduate in Government. “It was that directness I appreciated.”

Martinez urged him to apply for a leadership program in Washington, D.C., and Ramos said that is what helped him land an internship and ultimately a job with Gallego.

“That is why I owe him so much,” he said. “Even after I graduated, I continued to meet with him. He was a diplomat, so he always said, ‘Can you debrief and talk about what you are doing?’”

Dr. Val Martinez (left) with fellow faculty members Evelyn Racette and Dr. David Dean.

College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Dr. Sherman Elliott called Martinez “a gentleman extraordinaire who was recognized for his tremendous achievements by the State Department.”

Martinez was a Princeton graduate who became a diplomat in 1981 for the U.S. Department of State in Europe, Mexico, Bosnia and Northern Ireland. He retired after 20 years in foreign service before arriving at GCU five years ago as an adjunct professor and later a full-time instructor.

“I will miss his stories of the bygone era of his foreign service days in which he encountered both danger and glamour as he worked with dignitaries of foreign governments,” Elliott said.

For example, Sherman saw an article in the New York Times about the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which ended most of the violence in Northern Ireland that had ensued since the 1960s. Sherman wondered what Martinez thought of Gerry Adams, a leader in Sinn Féin who played a key part in the agreement.

“That was an interesting man. I had lunch with him and his mother,” Martinez told Elliott.

“I was blown away,” Elliott said. “But he said it like it was nothing. That’s the humility of Val Martinez.”

He was also a man who came into the office during the summer even though his contract duties were complete for the semester. Elliott would see Martinez's light on at the end of the hall and ask what he was doing. Turns out, he was reading tomes on the French Revolution, Woodrow Wilson memoirs or a philosophy text.

“That’s the sign of a true scholar. He loves scholarship for scholarship sake,” he said.

His lofty credentials didn’t keep him from being devoted to his learners, Elliott continued, “and instilled in them the same joy of learning that motivated him.”

He would spend countless hours helping students prepare for entrance exams to law school.

“He always had an open-door policy,” Ramos said. “You could walk in whether it was GCU related or life related and talk to him. I took my first class from him in 2017, and after that would always ask my counselor: ‘Are there any more classes he is teaching?’”

A memorial will be held for Martinez in Highland, Indiana, where he and his wife grew up.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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