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Supporter of the arts, adviser to his family

Andrew Martinez, a member of Mensa, owned a flower shop and was proud of his Spanish heritage.

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 4, 2002


WEST TAMPA -- Andrew J. Martinez was the eldest of nine children, which may explain why he spent his life teaching and encouraging others.

Artist friends asked him which colors to use in their works. State legislators asked him to bring a little Cuban culture to Tallahassee. Nephews and nieces asked the difference between frogs and toads.

Mr. Martinez died Sept. 26 at the age of 84.

"He counted, literally, princes and paupers among his friends," said his brother, Elvin Martinez, a Hillsborough County judge. "He helped everyone he could, and he did it at a great deal of personal sacrifice."

Growing up in West Tampa, Andrew Martinez was given the dual role of both antagonist and protector for his eight younger brothers and sisters.

"He was always an adviser to us, and also a big tease," said his sister, Palmira Fernandez. "Every time we'd play some game, there was a bad guy trying to get the others. He was the bad guy, and he'd chase us all around the house."

More often than not, Mr. Martinez acted as a mentor to his younger siblings. At 14, he would borrow French books from the library and teach his brothers and sisters in a makeshift classroom in the attic.

The attic was accessible only by a rope ladder. The children spent so much time up there taking "classes" that their mother threatened to cut the rope.

"He taught me everything I know," said Judge Elvin Martinez. "Not everything he knew, but everything I know. He encouraged me through law school and through my political career. He was my confidante, as well as all the other siblings'."

In fact, when Elvin Martinez began his 26-year run in the state House of Representatives, it was his brother who helped run his campaign, designing advertisements and campaign literature and posting yard signs until the wee hours of the morning.

There would be nights when Elvin grew weary of the campaign trail.

"Well, Andrew, it's 11:30. I think I'll go home," he'd say.

"Elvin," Andrew would reply, "bowling alleys are open all night." The two would then head off to glad-hand in a few all-night bowling alleys.

In Tallahassee, Mr. Martinez was widely known as his brother's aide, often translating Spanish letters and documents for other members of the house. He was instrumental in founding Ybor City Day in Tallahassee, a picnic of black bean soup, Cuban sandwiches and cafe con leche.

Back in Tampa, he was an active member of Tampa's artistic scene, serving as a charter member of the Tampa Arts Council and the Tampa Historical Society.

He supported and frequented Tampa's now-defunct Little Theater and the Spanish Lyric Theater, and was the director of his own troupe, the West Town Players, which staged local productions of everything from Our Town to Hamlet.

But nothing encapsulated Mr. Martinez's passion for the arts like his Hyde Park flower shop, Martinez Floral. The shop had a piano and many books, and on any given occasion you could walk in and find Mr. Martinez discussing the arts with dancer Jose Greco or local artist Jack Wilson.

His flowers were popular throughout Tampa. "He worked more at night, sometimes working till 3 or 4 a.m. if he's going to have a wedding the next day, so the flowers would be fresh," Fernandez said.

Martinez was brilliant -- he had an IQ of 166 and helped found the Tampa chapter of Mensa -- and thought it was his duty to pass along his knowledge of history and the arts to a younger generation.

He never had children of his own, but he always made his nieces and nephews go to the opera and orchestra, in Judge Martinez's words, "whether they wanted to or not."

"He just demanded that they be cultured," Elvin Martinez said, adding that he was "very proud of his Spanish ancestry, and the fact that art was a finer part of life."

But Mr. Martinez was never out of touch with the common man. Every year on Gasparilla Day, he'd cook hot dogs for the family and anyone else who happened to walk by his shop, before taking them to watch the parade.

Whenever he'd come visit his nieces and nephews, Fernandez said, he would take them hunting for frogs in Macfarlane Park.

"He enjoyed everything," Elvin Martinez said. "He enjoyed life."

Mr. Martinez's survivors include eight brothers and sisters, Matilda Garcia, Palmira Fernandez, Gregory Martinez, Zoraida Gullo, William Martinez, Danilo Martinez, Hilda Tornillo and Elvin Martinez; 11 nephews; 10 nieces; and 41 great-nieces and great-nephews.

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