Alexander Martin Gear 1939-2013

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Photo by Stephen Lesnik

This past Thursday, SF Fandom lost a giant, and I lost a dear friend and mentor. Nor am I alone. With the death of Marty Gear, dozens, if not hundreds of people are mourning the loss of a family member, a second father, a second grandfather. Marty was all these things to so many people that it’s hard to believe he was only one, sadly mortal, man.

I don’t remember when I met Marty, or first heard his name. As a fan growing up in and around Columbia, where Marty lived for the last half of his life, I’m sure I began to hear his name in high school, as a lightning rod, a guy very, very involved in local fandom and especially in Balticon. As I began to work the local cons, I heard his name, spoken reverently, as the guy who was helping to keep the Costume Call (an outdated name) or Masquerade together. At some point, I recognized his face, though I knew it behind makeup in the persona of Uncle Vlad, the genial host of the Balticon Masquerade, whose store of bad vampire jokes was never exhausted. I knew that, if there was a Masquerade and Marty wasn’t emceeing it, he and his wife Bobbie were either onstage competing, or they were in the green room, keeping things calm as dozens of costumers (and the Masquerade staff) sweated and became anxious and crabby. I knew that my spiritual sister, Cindy Shockey, and later Steve and Ann Lesnik, who ran my con’s Masquerades, looked on Marty and Bobbie as their convention parents.

When Farpoint (my Baltimore-based SF con, in case you don’t normally follow my blog or don’t have my life history memorized) began to make a real push to be more of a fan con around the year 2000, we added a fan guest of honor slot. Marty was our second pick. (Second only because we decided to honor fanzines the first year, and costuming the second year.) It was that year that he called me up and said, “We need to have lunch, so you can tell me exactly what you want a fan GoH to do.” I had never had a personal audience with Marty. Hell, I didn’t know he knew who I was! But he did, because Marty kept up with what was happening in Fandom around him. We were his tribe, after all. He was our elder, our shaman, and he needed to know what we needed from him.

I was comfortable from the moment we sat down to lunch, because Marty made you comfortable. (Unless you’d done something to disappoint him, and then he made you want to hide in a corner and cry.) In an hour or so at lunch, he told me his capsule Fandom history. Over the years of our friendship, he would tell me enough of his life history for me to know I could never hear it all, that it was all interesting, and that I’d never tire of hearing his stories, even if he told the same one a hundred times.

My favorite:

Young Marty Gear was about sixteen and attending WorldCon 1956, which records say was held in New York. He was in the dealers’ room looking at books when and older gentleman came up to him and casually asked him what he liked to read. Marty gave a few names, but said that his hands-down favorite books were the Lensman adventures by E.E. “Doc” Smith. At this point his new acquaintance shouted excitedly to someone nearby, “Here, Mother! Come meet this young man who likes those stories I’m always having you type for me!”

(Hope I got that right!)

The legendary Doc Smith took Marty under his wing that weekend. He took him to the Hugo Awards presentation, where he sat on the balcony with Doc, Robert A. Heinlein, Sprague DeCamp, and I believe Isaac Asimov. (Lesson One – If you have someone in your life who tells you wonderful stories, write them down! Before you know it, all the participants in the story will be dead, and there’ll be no one to ask about the details, as in this case.)

Okay, a younger generation might say this is all creepy. An older man picks up a teenager in the dealers’ room and squires him around the convention for the rest of the weekend? Yeah, I’ve seen situations like that that were creepy. Trust me, this wasn’t. You see, this is what SF fans do. (And Doc Smith, like all SF Authors, was also a fan.) We seek out and identify new souls to join our crusade. There are damned few of us in this hobby. From my perspective it seems there are fewer all the time, especially this week. We know we need to keep the new brethren coming, and we get very, very excited when we meet a person who is young and enthusiastic about our hobby.

You know why we do that? I’ll let you in on a secret: SF Fans never get old. We don’t. Oh, sure, we age. We die. But we retain, for all our lives, that sense of wonder that made us say as kids, “I love these stories about worlds beyond mine, and future times beyond mine; about what’s possible, and what’s not possible but should be. I. Want. More.” We retain it, or we stop being fans. And that sense of wonder keeps us young. And that sense of wonder also feeds on the hope and enthusiasm of others who have it. Not in any vampiric way (though Marty fancied himself a vampire), but in a way that gives even as it takes, a symbiosis. Two fans together, if all is as it should be, feed each others’ level of excitement.

Going forward from that encounter, Marty became the older man who welcomed newcomers to his community. He made us feel comfortable, he made us welcome, he encouraged us to do our best, and, if we needed help, he pitched in and worked his ass off to help us.

When his wife Bobbie left us in 2005, Marty reached out to me and said, “Hey, don’t you and your fannish friends gather on Friday nights?” I said yes, we did. “Would it be okay if I joined you this week?” he asked. Friday had been his date night with Bobbie, and he was at lose ends. Of course Marty was welcome, and he became a regular fixture at our Friday gatherings, always brining goodies from Trader Joes, Wegmans, or even Ikea. My kids were addicted to the flavored sparkling cide Ikea sells, and Marty rarely came to our door without a bottle or two in his hand.

Nor, once he became firmly one of my Fandom family, did Marty forget my kids’ birthdays. And when we came to his house, there was a workstation in his office for Christian, my youngest, to safely surf the Internet and work on art projects. If there were multiple little ones, games would be set up. My kids lost their grandmother in 2003, and it was devastating. When Marty came into our lives in this way, it was as if they’d gained another Grandfather. And with his passing, it’s as if they’ve lost one.

And with his passing, I’ve read on Facebook how many kids in Fandom feel they lost a Grandfather last Thursday night. And that just brings home another amazing thing about Marty: Everyone felt important to him when they were with him. Dozens, hundreds of us felt accepted into his family. That was just Marty.

Marty paid it forward. In the same way that the great Robert Heinlein advocated repaying those who have helped us and asked nothing in return, he helped others as he had been helped. Marty took that welcome that Doc Smith and the others gave him on his first convention visit, stretched it over the decades, and shared it with us all. Nor did he only reach out to those whom he met personally. He chaired the BSFS Young Writers’ Competition to encourage new talent. He and Bobbie established, and he continued, the Balticon Reading is Fundamental (RIF) auction to put books in the hands of kids who couldn’t afford them. He was active with the Costumer’s Guild, setting standards for building imaginative costumes and teaching novices how the craft worked.

Did I mention the part about going out of his way to help you? Despite spending countless hours of his life reading young writers stories, he read mine too. When I published my first book, he read it right away. He nominated it for awards. He asked me, based on that one, to please give him all the radio shows and stories that tied into it, because he was hooked on my creations, my Arbiters. He loved them so much that he asked to become one of them. There’s an aged professor character in my Arbiters tales, Professor Mors. He’s the spiritual descendant of Merlin, Dr. Zarkhov, of Victor Bergman, of Ambassador Sarek and countless others who speak with the wisdom drawn from experience. Marty loved that character, and asked to voice him. John Weber, the actor who’d had the part for a couple of years, was happy to step down in Marty’s favor. And, of course, he was the perfect Professor Mors.

My god. Who will voice him now?

And when Marty didn’t love my stories, he told me. He would send me detailed analyses of what he thought was wrong, and how it could be fixed. And he’d say, unnecessarily, “I hope we’re still friends.” Like he had to ask. What else could I call someone who took his time out to help improve my art but “friend?”

When I first founded Prometheus Radio Theatre and wanted to set up my own recording studio, Marty showed up at my door with a carload of mixers, microphones, cables and even a few hundred egg cartons he’d saved so I could make sound deadening panels. If he’d just bought a new toy, he offered it up when someone was hosting a party or giving a performance. The last time I saw him, in fact, was about three weeks ago, when he swung by my house to pick up speaker adapters he’d loaned me for a gig, since he needed them for the last con he was ever to work. He told me then that he’d just been in the hospital for congestive heart failure, and that maybe he needed to slow down a little… after this con.

Marty didn’t let adversity hold him back – pacemaker, heart failure, the loss of his wife. Where the rest of us sit and weep because there’s a pimple on our ass (yes, I’m talking to You… whoever you are) Marty kept going and stayed positive. Oh, he could get pissed, mostly at poor organization. But that didn’t slow him down either. Yes, towards the end he was looking for an exit strategy. But he never exited. He died doing what he loved. Two weeks before his sudden death, he was working a con, and gearing up for the next one.

I think that’s the lesson I’ve taken from Marty’s too-brief time as part of my life. I won’t let the little crap stop me, or get me down, or get in my way of enjoying life. Any of us, even the greatest, could be gone from this world a second from now. We don’t know what comes next, if anything. All we can do against that dreadful reality is enjoy our lives, love those who deserve it, (and sometimes even those who don’t)  and make the most of our time here.

Overwhelming tasks don’t seem so overwhelming to me, all of a sudden. I can work through them, a little at a time. Fights I’ve had and slights I’ve suffered don’t seem such a big deal any more. I don’t have time to be miserable. I don’t have time to be angry. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I don’t have much time at all, really, and what I have, I want to spend saying “thank you” to my friend for all he did for me. I begin now…

Marty, I will tell your stories. I’ll add some of my own, too.

I will welcome and nurture the young in our community.

I will take time to help where I can.

I will remember that sometimes I have to let my loved ones know if they’re not living up to their potential.

I will keep alive that sense of wonder.

I will never let myself grow old, no matter how aged I may become.

I will pay it forward.

(And I will stop crying… but maybe not today.)

27 thoughts on “Alexander Martin Gear 1939-2013

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  2. wonderful Steve, so very nice and true. And all of us are cousins because of him. While I dont know you personally, I knew of you, because Marty would talk about you,when he was with us, as if you were just more distant relatives that didnt happen to be with us at that moment.

  3. Thank you for writing this… it makes me feel closer to Marty, reading about your own experiences with him. Weird, eh? I think the more people remember him, the more he’s a continuing presence, in some way.

  4. So very well said Sir! With your permission, I would like to post a link to this fine tribute on my FB page.

  5. Pay it forward. Yes.

    I am very grateful for the time Marty spent with me, and for the faith he has had in me from time to time over my life. I am extremely grateful that my ‘protege’ was able to meet and get to know him as well.

    Being open to mentoring younger fans who have an interest in the things that we do as fans (from running conventions to costuming and more) is one of the things that helps our community grow. It also rekindles our own interests within it.

    I will miss him. always.

  6. Steve – Thank you for writing this….it is truly a wonderful tribute to our dear friend. I write this with tears in my eyes, but tears of joy of the reminder of such a fantastic friend we all had in Marty. Thanks again…

  7. Thanks for this, Steve. It’s on my fb wall. (pause to blot tears) I think of him often, and will for some time to come.

  8. Beautifully written, Steve. Marty was a true gentleman and a fixture at local cons that I could always look forward to. Although I was more of an acquaintance than a friend, I did have the pleasure of chatting with him during some downtime at NADWcon, something that I will always remember.

  9. Returning home from SDCC 2013, I’m saddened to hear of his passing. Marty was a great friend and I always looked forward to meeting him at conventions. At least he will live on in my photograph and the stories generations of fans will be able to tell of this great gentleman.

  10. Steve, this was a wonderful memorial for Marty. He was a great friend and mentor to us all. I think he’d be happy to know what a positive influence he was to you, and all of us. We will miss him, but we must also remember to be happy that he is now reunited with his beloved Bobby.

  11. Steve,

    Like a number of other people have said, reading this elegy for Marty moved me to tears. Like you, he took me in, made me feel welcomed, important, motivated. He was family and I’ve spent most of the past week wrapped in mourning, trying to figure out what that part of my life is going to look like with this newly formed vampire-shaped hole in the middle of it.

    I unexpectedly spent part of my commute this morning talking to a homeless 25 year old woman. She’d struggled with drug addiction, gotten clean, was in a rehab program, and trying to get custody of her daughter back. She wasn’t looking at her life and bemoaning everything that stacked against her. She’d gotten up this morning like she does every day and was headed to her support group. Knowing she’d spent the money she had on her transit pass, I took her past a coffee shop and bought her a bagel. And I thought of Marty. I thought about living the lesson he’d learned from Doc Smith. And for a moment, I smiled through my tears.

  12. That was a beatiful and moving tribute, Steve. I don’t know you, but anyone who writes so compellingly about a man I was happy to call friend has got to be one helluva great guy. Through you I learned about different facets of our mutual friend. Your piece did not made me cry, it filled me with joy that Marty had been one of my friends. I hope I’ll have a chance to meet you at the memorial service.

  13. What a beautiful and moving tribute to a wonderful man! Marty will be missed by so many people but the kind and generous things he did will continue to have a positive impact on our community for many, many, many years to come.

  14. Very surprised and saddened to hear of Marty’s passing. Saw him a few months ago at a party in MD, and he was vivacious (can a vampire be vivacious?), telling wonderful stories as usual. I had mis-heard about his passing a while back, and was delightedly shocked to see him. We had not been close, but were friends. Glad I got to see him once more. He could read his Social Security number and make it sound like a story, with that voice. May he rest in peace.

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  16. Marty was a gentleman’s gentleman, and a giant in our once-beautiful and once-tiny costuming world, which the Internet and SyFy are now apparently making big and ugly (I’m bashing Cosplay. Costuming was done for the sheer fun of it in Marty’s era; now it’s commercialized. I’m sorry Marty lived to see these sad days. It must have really yanked his chain).

    Marty’s unstinting professionalism brought dignity to Costume Call, an event that at most conventions would otherwise have been a Schauenfreude contest, or “Conventions for Schmucks”. I think exposure to Marty brought a lot of wannabe costumers into line with the idea that “Comedy Isn’t Funny”; i.e., they should be there for the audience, instead of just for themsleves: win-win all around. I’m sure I speak for other costumers when I say that when we knew Marty would be MCing the show, it was pretty much guaranteed to be a class act from the green room to the stage.

    God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman, for you have earned it. Requiescat in Pace, but remember: The Sun Never Sets On the British Vampire! HAH! 😀

    Mark Harju, Costumer (active 1985-1996)

    • Good to hear from you, Mark! Y’know, I don’t know if it did yank his chain. He never talked much about Cosplay. I’m sure he found it a bit silly that some Cosplayers are now being considered guests at cons and demanding fees, rooms and airfare. But as I wandered around the edges of Otakon last weekend and saw thousands of kids in costume, I thought about Marty, how he had also been involved in their masquerade, and that he probably got a charge out of all that youthful energy going into costuming, even if it was sometimes commercial. Marty wasn’t the old guy who shouted “Get out of my yard!” He was the guy who welcomed the kids, showed them how to play the game better, and, without their realizing it, got them to actually help him clean up the yard. I always got the sense about Marty that he found the best in the changing times. As you say, he turned what could have been a schmuck-fest into a class act. I don’t have his positive energy. I too look around at Fandom and sometimes think “I bled and sweated and cried… for THIS?” You’re right, cons may be TOO big now, and too commercial. I fear that this big mass of Fandom may entirely lose sight of what it was we loved. But I’m trying to do what Marty did and see the 10 per cent of everything that ISN’T crap.

  17. Such a well-written goodbye to such a fantastic man. I haven’t been at any cons in 10+ years, as I’m living in Europe now, and haven’t had the forthwith or fifthwith to attend any here. Still, Marty Gear is one of my untenable memories of attending conventions through the 80s and 90s. Marty will be missed.

  18. This news shocked me. I only moments ago posted a LiveJournal entry regarding the Baltimore Book Festival I attended this past weekend and added a link to Balticon which, when the link loaded, listed Marty as “Fan Ghost of Honor”.

    As I had only last spoken with Marty at Balticon over Memorial Day, finding this tribute to him posted only two months after that time and coming to me two months later from when it was written is a shock.

    I knew Marty had a suffered from cardiac problems but one could never describe Marty as having a “bad heart”: Marty Gear had one of the best and giving hearts of anyone I’ve met in this life.

    I’ll never forget his Cohen the Barbarian during the 2004 Worldcon show.

    It’s been 25 years since I met “Vlad”.

    I cannot believe he’s gone.

    JJB

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