Obituary, Donovan Martin

donovan-VRTDonovan Reed Martin, bartender, woodworker, and an enduring figure of Woodstock, died suddenly last Thursday afternoon at his home. He was 64.

Donovan was a son of the generation of artists, musicians and writers who were synonymous with the legend of 20th Century Woodstock. Born to noted artist, Fletcher Martin, and actress, Helen Donovan, he was raised in the bohemian tradition amongst true American icons.

His youth, split between Woodstock and Los Angles, was punctuated with mischief, motorcycles and a mastery of the brawl. His long career in bartending began at the Marina Del Rey in LA. He had a well-known stint in the ‘70’s at the legendary Woodstock music venue, the Joyous Lake. This was in its blues and disco heyday, when the likes of Muddy Waters, James Cotton and Joe Cocker performed regularly. It was during this time that Donovan gained a reputation for enforcing his personal moral code on patrons.


In the early ‘90’s, Donovan transitioned from bartending to carpentry for its seclusion and slower pace. He quickly developed an intense appreciation for Japanese architecture and aesthetics that influenced his designs. He became a meticulous craftsman, finely skilled in wood, tile and stone work. Mainly self-taught, he immersed himself in research for every possible technique and approach to a given project.

It was with the same focus and intellect that he became well-studied in all his interests. He consistently consumed books, films and articles on boxing, classic R&B, basketball, poker, WWII, and art. He studied drawing under Nicholas Buhalis at the Woodstock School of Art. He was reverent of the greats, and dedicated himself to some of his parents’ contemporaries until their deaths, including artist Ed Chavez. He was particularly attentive to the late actor and sportscaster, Heywood Hale “Woodie” Broun, with whom he could talk sports for hours and considered a beloved friend. Woodie introduced him to the Saratoga Raceway and sparked an interest in horse racing.

Donovan had a long-established penchant for basketball. At 6’4” he was a force on the boards and developed an uncanny running one hander. From his teens, he was a Woodstock Rec Field and “Friday night hoops” regular. He integrated himself into some of the toughest street ball courts in the country, including the Venice Beach Courts in Los Angeles and the West 4th Street “Cage” in Manhattan.

A lifelong boxing fan, he was awed by the elegant movements, stamina and strategy of fighters. The fascination began early, and almost certainly originated from his father. Fletcher had boxed in the Navy, and was recognized for his paintings that captured brutal snapshots of the sport.

Throughout Donovan’s childhood, Fletcher and his compadres held regular games of 7 Card Stud and 5 Card Draw for nickels, dimes and quarters. Donovan and the other sons started their own poker circle in their teens, but played the more nuanced game of 7 Card Hi/Lo, and higher stakes made for a tenser game. Over 40 years later, that “boys club” continues to meet twice annually. Apparently, Donovan rarely won due to his inability to cultivate a poker face. The games were never as much as about winning as they were, for him, about seeing dear friends.

Donovan Martin was predeceased by his brothers, Clint and Robin Martin.  He is survived by cousins, Margaret Blood, Michael Tankhenson and Maria Hodge, step-brother, Andre Mele, step-nieces, Tina Freligh and Paloma Mele, and his partner, Beth Rohrkemper.

Interment will be held privately. There will be a gathering of friends and family at the Woodstock School of Art on Sunday, September 20, 2015 at 11 a.m.

There are 2 comments

  1. Louise Luna

    Having moved from Woodstock last year I was not aware of the passing of a friend from the past, Donovan Martin. I recently subscribed to Woodstock Times (in my search to return to the Woodstock area), and was stunned to see his face in the myriad of so many said farewells in 2015. I met Donovan through the Joyous Lake days, the Espresso days and then ran into him in L.A. He was the same Donovan from the heady times that Woodstock was in those years. Quiet, unassuming, gentle and kind. It was such a kick to see him there, bringing back so many memories, not only of him but of good old Woodstock. After 25 years in L.A., I returned to Woodstock and ran into him, which, again, was a nice surprise. I actually come back to town to shop and saw him at Sunflower. He was gone by the time I got outside. I didn’t get a chance to say ‘Hi again!’. He was a person from my youth, my ‘coming of age’ in Woodstock town, and in a way, a constant. Farewell my friend.

  2. Jim Evans

    I was a very close friend with his Mom Helen from the mid Sixties to her passing in 1985.She was quite beautiful in so many ways and Don who I was briefly introduced to when he was a teen, resembled her very much and handsome as he was, was clearly his mother’s son. I knew his brother Clint and was saddened to hear of both of them passing so prematurely. I was not aware of a brother named Robin….could that possibly be a misprint. I am up in age now, but still curious about his Mom’s days in Woodstock during her marriage to Fletcher from 1946 to 1961. Not too interested in the Sylvia Sydney story, but very much interested in Helen’s time in Woodstock. I can be reached by Email @

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