Coach Ed Martin dies of heart failure
Special to The Register & Bee

DANVILLE, Va. - The sudden death of veteran George Washington High School football coach Ed Martin was met with shock by school and coaching colleagues.

Martin died Wednesday at his residence of apparent heart failure at age 50.

"Everyone knew Ed had heart problems, but I figured he was doing better - and he looked better," said Joel DeBoe, GW principal. "I talked with Ed recently, and he was making plans for the upcoming season."

Retired GW coach and athletic director Dave Brown called Martin's death a shock.

"I've talked with Ed on the phone two times a week since I left Danville, and he kept telling me he was feeling better," said Brown, reached at his home near Charleston, S.C. "Everyone associated with Ed knew of his health problems in recent years, but we were hopeful."

"Ed Martin was as close a friend as I've ever had," added Brown, "and I feel a great loss."

Martin missed five games in 1995 after undergoing heart bypass surgery. Then last September, he started experiencing stomach pains. He was hospitalized for a short time but never took a leave of absence from coaching.

In April, at the recommendation of his sister, who is an associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University, Martin visited a specialist at the university hospital. On April 16 he was admitted to the hospital, where he underwent tests for undisclosed heart problems.

When Martin returned to Danville in late April, he said only that doctors changed his medication and diet.

"Some days are better than others," Martin said at the time. "I'm going through some big changes right now and they (doctors) told me it would take a while to evaluate how I feel."

When asked then if he had thought about his future in coaching, Martin was quick to reply that he definitely wanted to remain head coach at GW.

"It's my life," Martin said about coaching. "I'm planning on being able to coach. If the medications and changes in my lifestyle work and I feel well enough to coach, I will be there."

DeBoe said he was not ready to talk about a coaching replacement, but he expressed confidence the position would be filled from within the Danville school system.

"Ed Martin had a great coaching record, but his true legacy at GW will be the young men he coached and the many college scholarships that came from success on the football field. I look at Ed Martin as a legend in this area, just like Alger Pugh and Sonny Wall. Ed Martin will be missed."

Freddie Vicks, senior pastor at Third Avenue Congregational Christian Church, will conduct services Friday at 11 a.m. at the George Washington High School auditorium. He admits it'll be difficult on him.

"Ed Martin was a good friend, like a brother to me," said Vicks who has served as GW football team chaplain for 23 years. "I started serving as chaplain with Alger Pugh and offered my services to Ed Martin when he came here 14 years ago."

"Ed wasn't quite sold on the idea at first," Vicks added with a smile, "but he said it was OK after talking with his coaching staff. Since then, our relationship grew stronger with each season and deepened when he encountered health problems a few years ago."

Martin's right-hand man on the coaching staff, Everett Woods, called the news a shock. "Eddie appeared to be doing fine, but he never complained. We had talked some about the upcoming season, and he was looking forward to it."

Woods, who earlier served as head coach at Dan River High School, was Martin's top assistant and defensive coordinator since joining the GW staff 12 years ago. He said the relationship was a good one.

"Eddie always supported my decisions 100 percent. He knew I loved to coach football, and we worked well together. I considered us close friends, and I think he felt the same way."

Brookville High School athletic director John Vasvary coached with Martin. The two remained close friends over the years.

"We became good friends coaching together at Brookville, and that friendship endured over the years," said Vasvary. "I was at the University of Pittsburgh when Ed took the job in Danville. He called me and he admitted to being very nervous about leaving Brookville for a new job.

"We talked a lot and I basically told him to set his goals and stick with them, and he did that and was very successful. We also talked about his heart surgery several years ago, because I had gone through the same thing. I think that helped him get through it."

During a recent conversation with Martin, Vasvary said Martin kept telling him that he was fine. "I had a bad feeling about him recently, however. My dad passed away and Ed called to tell me he couldn't make it up for the funeral. I knew Ed would have been there with me if he had been feeling OK."

Thomas Kelley, assistant superintendent for business and technology with the Danville Public Schools, said the Danville Public School System was saddened by the loss of Ed Martin.

"Ed Martin was a beloved and integral part of the Danville public schools since 1986. A teacher and head football coach at George Washington High School during his entire 14-year tenure, Ed was a major contributor to the success of the GW sports program and to the success of countless students.

"The Danville Public School System expresses sincere gratitude for all of the contributions that Ed Martin and his family have made to the George Washington family, the Danville public schools and the Danville community. Our sincere condolences and prayers are with his wife Debbie and his sons, Sid and Scott."

Martin also leaves a mother, Carolyn, a sister, Carolyn, and two grandchildren. He was pre-deceased by his father, Edwin Sr., and a brother, Carter.

Visitation will be held Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Third Avenue Congregational Christian Church. Funeral services will be held Friday at 11 a.m. from the George Washington High School auditorium. Burial will be at 3 p.m. at White's United Methodist Church on English Tavern Road in Rustburg. Following graveside services, the family will receive friends at the home of his mother, 245 Timberlake Dr., Lynchburg.