A Tribute to and With Joe L. Martinez Jr. , “A Hero of Diversity'”

A Tribute to and With Joe L. Martinez Jr. , "A Hero of Diversity'"

By Diana Kenney

For the past 23 summers, young neuroscientists from underrepresented groups have participated in an outstanding training opportunity at the MBL, the Summer Program in Neuroscience, Excellence, and Success (SPINES). Like many MBL course alumni, SPINES alumni are a strongly bonded group who credit the course with having had a major impact on their career success. The two pioneering neuroscientists who founded SPINES, James G. Townsel and Joe L. Martinez, Jr., both recently passed away, Townsel on June 22 and Martinez on August 29. The loss is keenly felt in the MBL community.

On June 29, an extraordinary assemblage of neuroscientists, many of them SPINES faculty and alumni, gathered on Zoom to pay tribute to Martinez, who attended the event along with his wife, Kimberly Smith-Martinez. Below is a video of the event, which begins with informal conversation between Martinez and some of the more than 120 attendees.

“You have been a world-renown learning and memory researcher, founder of modern Chicano psychology, and a warrior for social justice,” said Eddie Castañeda, now on the faculty at University of Texas-El Paso, to Martinez and the gathering. “A mentor to students but also to faculty, you have been a special role model and friend. A soul tie existed between you and Jim Townsel. You had great ways of bringing people together, nurturing a fellowship that exists for a lifetime for each of us. You were courageous to fight for the good causes, and you showed us how to be courageous. Your world-renown leadership brought other heavyweights to mingle with SPINES trainees, and these students learned that they, too, can become leaders and have an impact in science and in justice. You are like a tornado that changed the landscape of the world. Thank you for your visions, your courage, your actions and your love.”

Neurobiologist Ed Kravitz of Harvard Medical School, who has taught in SPINES since its inception, was among those present. “At [the MBL] we taught courses of the highest quality, with the best equipment and the best students in the world,” he said. “But as with so many academic institutions of that day or even now, there were very few or no HIspanic or Black students or scientists at the MBL, who could have the joy and pleasure of having the MBL as their ‘real’ scientific home. Joe, you and Jim Townsel completely changed that when you suggested the establishment of SPINES,” Kravitz said. “Hundreds of students have benefited from this spectacular program, which is only one of the many successful ventures you have created to mentor and support the next generation of Hispanic and Black scientists. You are a hero of diversity, Joe, an honor that is well deserved.”

Below are a few screenshots from the event.

Joe L. Martinez Jr., center, surrounded by grateful former trainees and colleagues, including former MBL Education Director Rae Nishi and MBL Whitman scientist Steve Zottoli, both involved with SPINES since its inception.


Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, who trained in Martinez’s lab before entering medical school, rushed from the OR to attend the tribute, which he had organized. “You gave me courage at the time when nobody believed this kid who can’t really speak English [can make it],” said Quiñones-Hinojosa, who came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1987. Quiñones-Hinojosa is now Chair of Neurologic Surgery at Mayo Clinic.


Sharing a lighter moment.


Mary and Jim Townsel, front row, and Joe Martinez and Kimberly Smith-Martinez, second row, at the MBL in 2019 for the annual Dr. Joe L. Martinez, Jr. and Dr. James G. Townsel Endowed Lectureship in SPINES. Photo shared by Anne M. Etgen, longtime SPINES faculty member from Albert Einstein College of Medicine.


Joe Martinez, Jr. at the July 4th parade in Woods Hole. Photo shared by Anne Etgen.

2 Responses

  1. This is a beautiful tribute MBL, this brightens my day in these sad times. Learning about the passing of Dr. Townsel earlier in the year and now Dr. Martinez has re-united with his long time friend and collaborator. Much love to the Martinez family in these times and all of us who were touched by these Giants!

    Muchas Gracias, Ulises Ricoy

  2. Dr. Martinez was such an inspiration to so many. I was very fortunate enough to have been mentored by him. He is deeply missed.

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