The tree of my childhood:

Marty Hamer, 1952–2020

Marty Hamer

(August 6, 1952 – January 16, 2020)

By Tamara Levine

You always knew it was Marty from a block away or more because of her hair, the wild mane of curls cascading down her back, piled high on her head or whooshed into a hefty pony tail or braid. It would often be topped by a jaunty straw or woolly hat reflecting Marty’s unique style and in tune with the season. When she walked or rode her clunky bicycle down the streets of the Glebe, Marty would stop to chat with folks of all ages whose name and story she would remember because she was an astute observer and listener with a keen emotional intelligence.

It’s hard to believe there will be a spring in the Glebe without Marty. After a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer last May, Marty and her husband Randy Cameron moved from their house on Regent St. to a sunny home in the south end, where she fought the disease valiantly and with consummate grace. She celebrated her birthday in August, saw the fall colours, watched the snow fly and had a warm family Christmas. Her New Year’s was full of radiance and love. Marty died at home on January 16, 2020.

Few of us get to both live and work in the Glebe, but Marty did. Marty met Randy at a “hippie house” on Fourth Avenue and became a fixture in the neighbourhood for decades. When their sons Jamie and Kyle were young, Marty began casual work at the Glebe Parents’ Day Care. She soon became a full-time daycare worker caring for many hundreds of children from infants through pre-teens, facilitating a Resource Centre for home daycare providers and driving the bus. Marty nurtured not only the children in her care but whole families and even generations of families.

My family was one of the lucky ones, landing at the daycare in 1988 after a stressful childcare experience. Daniel, then two, got a spot in the Toddler room; Rachel at almost six joined Marty’s program at Mutchmor. We could breathe again: finally, we had high-quality care with excellent qualified and caring staff we could count on for the next 10 years. Rachel, now 37, wrote, “Marty loved watching us grow and learn, bestowing on each of us her gift of love and acceptance. She believed in ‘making each day a great one,’ encouraging us to appreciate what and who we had in our lives.” Alix Cleland, another of Marty’s “kids,” wrote, “Marty was the trunk of the tree in my childhood.” It takes a village to raise a child, and Marty was a pillar in our village.

Marty had wide interests and passions. During her working years, she volunteered her time and people expertise (1990-2010) to the Blue Skies Music Festival in North Frontenac. She travelled 10 times to Canada’s north with ArtsCan Circle to work with Aboriginal children. An accomplished writer of memoir with a special talent for capturing the point of view and voice of a child, she also tried her hand at fiction and participated in numerous writing groups and workshops. After she retired in 2015, she devoted herself to writing, knitting, crafts and gardening. I always thought of Marty as a song whisperer who loved to sing and play guitar and knew the words to a thousand songs. She was a constant at our Abbotsford Sing’n Jam Circle and a keen member of our Gil’s Hootenanny team.

Marty tended our children, welcomed my husband Larry and me to music nights at Regent St. and invited us to Blue Skies, now a 30+ year tradition. I had the joy of sharing Anna Rumin’s writing workshops at the Glebe Community Centre with Marty. We created our own writing circle. Our bond deepened further when she was diagnosed with cancer – I had been through my own year from hell with breast cancer 10 years earlier. We had deep-dive conversations in person and over the phone with no holds barred, sharing our fears and joys and what was deepest in our hearts.

Randy said it was a difficult ending but that she was surrounded by much love. Marty died too young and too soon with so much more to live for. The only consolation is that her suffering is over. She lived a good and rich life and touched many, many hearts.

When I see a mane of wild curly hair on Bank Street or Fifth Avenue, will it be Marty? Who else will know the words to a thousand songs? Who will write in child voice the stories that speak to all of us? Who will remember the children she tended like a garden for all the years at the daycare? There is a big gaping hole in the world, in the neighbourhood and in our hearts.

A celebration of Marty’s life will be held at the First Unitarian Congregation, 30 Cleary Avenue, Ottawa, on Saturday, May 16, 2020 at 4 p.m.

Tamara Levine lives in the Glebe.

“Who else will know the words to a thousand songs? Who will write in child voice the stories that speak to all of us?”

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