Happy Hundredth to Martin!

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Dr. Martin Pope, who turned 100 years old on August 22, made a name for himself in the world of science. Check it out for yourself on the New York University website https://as.nyu.edu/content/nyu-as/as/faculty/martin-pope.html. If you can understand this list, you are ahead of me. 

In my opinion, equally important and much closer to my understanding and pay grade, he made a name for himself in the world of children’s books as a lifelong friend of Ezra Jack Keats. The “lifelong” refers to him, since it has exceeded Keats’s life by many years. 

The two junior high boys bonded one hot summer when they both had to attend summer school for different reasons and retreated afterwards to Ezra’s mother for her ice-cold lemonade made with fresh lemons. (Ezra’s frequent absences for illnesses entailed makeup work in summer school; Martin served his summer sentence for sassing a teacher.) 

Their bond took a twist when Ezra wandered out of the neighborhood and discovered Arlington Branch Public Library. After sharing his discovery with his friend, they began a regular library trek foreshadowing their careers as Martin read all the science books and Ezra all the art books. As they walked each other home, Ezra pointed out the multiple shades of brilliant color in the fall leaves. Martin explained that they had been there all along and only became obvious when the chlorophyll receded. It may not surprise you that when I had an extra day in New York a few years ago, I visited the library that gave them a start in their respective vocations.

With a few short interventions for study and World War II, the friends continued their talking walks over a lifetime until Ezra’s death in 1983, discussing topics ranging from personal decisions to concerns for the world. Martin’s wife Lillie and daughters Miriam and Deborah became part of that inner circle, the daughters considering Ezra as an honorary uncle. In one of his last children’s books, Regards to the Man in the Moon, Ezra takes children on an imaginary voyage into space. Who did he consult for the scientific background? His friend Martin, of course.


As Ezra’s health became uncertain, he began to think about establishing a foundation that would receive the royalties from his books. He told Martin and Lillie that he wanted it to “do good.”  In the years following Ezra’s death, the Pope family has made his wish come true as they have directed that foundation. It has “done good” far more than I can include in one blog, but you can explore for yourself at http://www.ezra-jack-keats.org. Opportunities abound that you might want to consider from children’s activities to grants for teachers and librarians.   

A superb scientist and a forever friend – Happy Hundredth, Martin!