John Bernard Martin, Baltimore native and film industry driver and personal assistant, dies

John Bernard Martin, a former Towson resident who became a driver and personal assistant within the New York City film industry, died Oct. 1 at his Manhattan home. He was 61.

His sister, Bridgid Martin Nesbit of Bel Air, said he died of a suspected blood clot.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Ridge Avenue in Towson, he was the son of Edward Joseph Martin, a Baltimore County public schools building supervisor, and Patricia Kelly Martin, a secretary at the school system’s headquarters at Greenwood.

He attended Immaculate Conception and Dumbarton Middle School and was a 1975 graduate of Towson High School.

As a child he played for the neighborhood football team.

“He was thick-limbed with legs that looked like cannons, and we quickly nicknamed him ‘Beefy,’” recalled a friend, Ramsey Flynn, a former Baltimore magazine editor. “We weren’t even sure he could catch the ball and made him the center. All of us wore white football pants with neatly tucked pads but Bernie wore distinctively rust-colored pants and his shoulder pads seemed to forever escape outside his jersey, bouncing wildly as he ran and giving him the vague appearance of the Pig Pen character from Charlie Brown.

“We were the world’s most ineffective football team and rarely ever scored,” Mr. Flynn said. “But on one bungled play — I was the quarterback — we fumbled the ball and Bernie magically came up with it…. In the confusion Bernie just started angling toward the opponent’s goal on the fields of Rodgers Forge. We were stunned that Bernie Martin scored one of our only touchdowns of the season, and carried him away on our little shoulders.”

After high school, he worked for the Radebaugh Florists in Towson. He later joined the Marine Corps and became a logistics officer assigned to posts in the North Sea and the Panama Canal.

“In the Marines he somehow migrated into duties that saw him as the personal driver of senior officers,” said Mr. Flynn.

After his military service he worked for then-State Sen. John A. Pica. He was also a Baltimore City Liquor Board Inspector and, in the late 1980s, worked for Dance Auctioneers in Towson.

Mr. Flynn said Mr. Martin served as a driver for Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos and later found similar work in New York City.

“Bernie was a natural at this line of work, because he had exceptional people skills,” said Phil Federico, a longtime friend. “During his time with the Orioles, Bernie was exposed to and involved in the logistics of entertaining many dignitaries, including presidents Bush and Clinton and celebrities such as Tom Clancy, Jimmy Fallon and Freddie Prinze Jr.on behalf of Mr. Angelos and the Orioles organization.”

In 1995, after moving to New York, Mr. Martin drove for entertainment industry figures as a member of the Theatrical Teamsters Local 187.

“Bernie’s reputation as a personal assistant soared in the movie industry, as he was being sought after by Hollywood’s elite,” Sen. Pica said.

“Bernie mostly squired Hollywood big shots,” said Mr. Flynn. “Bernie’s considerable unassuming charm found favor with folks that included Sarah Michelle Gellar of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ fame, and he even won a supporting film role in ‘Wolf of Wall Street,’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio.”

Mr. Martin was a member of the Screen Actors Guild, and also appeared in the 1997 film “Washington Square” with Albert Finney and Maggie Smith.

He became a personal assistant to Gene Hackman during the filming of “The Replacements,” a football movie that was partially shot in Baltimore at Ravens Stadium. According to Sen. Pica, he also served as a personal assistant to Ms. Gellar, Matt Damon and Cameron Diaz.

In a statement on Facebook, Ms. Gellar said, “I considered him family. My kids called him Uncle Bernie.”

For the past five years he had been the personal assistant to film director and producer Martin Scorsese.

“Over the years, pretty quickly, he became a part of our lives, someone we confided in, someone we cared about deeply and who cared about us, someone we truly loved,” said Mr. Scorsese in an email.

“I loved Bernie’s company, I loved his sense of humor, and his loyalty meant the world to me — whenever we needed him, no matter what, he was there. And I loved his presence,” said Mr. Scorsese. “In fact, I cast him in my new picture, ‘The Irishman.’ ”

Mr. Martin was a 30-year member of Alcoholics Anonymous and had mentored others in the recovery program. Friends said he enjoyed sweets, coffee and trips to Maryland, Delaware and Florida beaches.

“In our family, Bernie took care of all of us after our mom died at a very young age,” said Ms. Nesbit, his sister. “He always put family first.”

“Bernie was one of my first childhood pals to show up at the announcement of my father’s death in July of 2010,” recalled Mr. Flynn. "He selflessly offered to take on every unloved support function for the funeral. One of my last images of Bernie found him pounding stakes in the hardened July turf out at the Mercy Ridge community, hoping to guide traffic into the chapel. I asked him to come join us inside the church, but Bernie demurred.”

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Ware Avenue in Towson.

In addition to his sister, survivors include two brothers, Timothy Kelly Martin of Ocean City and Robert Locke of Maine; another sister, Stacey Dugan of Abingdon; and nieces and nephews. Another brother, Michael Joseph Martin, died in 1990.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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