Although the above description was applied to Congressman and Senator Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861), as one of the participants in the seven famous Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858 against Abraham Lincoln, Chattanooga has also had a “Little Giant”.
Born in 1923, Dr. Walter L. “Oogie” Martin, Jr. was also diminutive in size with a huge heart.
He was a devout Catholic and a strong supporter of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.
He was also a veteran of three years of service in the Army Air Corps as a 1st Lieutenant during World War II in the Pacific Theater serving as a member of a Bomber Reconnaissance Group of the 5th Air Force whose unit received two Bronze Stars.
Oogie initially attended the University of Chattanooga (U.C.) in 1946 but in 1948 transferred to Auburn University in order to qualify for admission to the College of Veterinary Medicine.
After graduation in 1953 he engaged in a lengthy and successful career as a veterinarian and public servant.
He initially was a partner in the Byles-Martin Animal Hospital for over 30 years and he co-founded the Animal Clinic with his son in Chattanooga.
The tales of the diminutive Dr. Martin entering a cage to treat bears and a rat bitten python pet of a stripper at the “Classic Cat”, an adult entertainment nightclub on Main Street in Chattanooga, and his encounter with Chantek, an orangutan owned by one of the professors at U.C., are part of the more humorous chapters of the veterinary history of Hamilton County.
Recognized while a veterinary student as being particularly proficient in large animal medicine and surgery, this became a specialty area throughout his career.
He served as president of the Hamilton County Veterinary Medical Association (HCVMA) in 1959 and held every office in the Tennessee Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA), including serving as president in 1970.
In 1989 he was elevated to the position of President of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) as the only Tennessean veterinarian to receive that honor.
His loyalty to Auburn continued throughout his entire life and he helped recruit area football, basketball and baseball players for the Tigers/Plainsmen/War Eagles in Alabama.
Oogie was an avid supporter of education at Auburn. He served on both the Alumni Advisory Council at both the University and College of Veterinary Medicine for many years beginning in 1965.
In 1977 he was elected as President of the University alumni group and continued to support Auburn after his term of service ended.
He was actively engaged in the breeding of Tennessee Walking Horses and with his original business partner operated a fairly large cow/calf commercial herd on 250 acres.
From 1974-1988 he served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Humane Educational Society of Chattanooga and, following his retirement from his active veterinary practice, he would become an active supporter of the organization.
Oogie accepted the position of Executive Director of the facility and he raised over $1,000,000 to upgrade the shelter.
Under his leadership several innovative programs were initiated to enhance the care and treatment of homeless animals.
Promotion of early spaying and neutering became a hallmark of his efforts to address the many issues surrounding the care and treatment of animals.
This practice on shelter animals made them more adoptable and increased their chances of finding a new home.
In 2002 the American Veterinarian Medical Association (AVMA) honored him with its highest award in recognition of his lifetime contributions to the “advancement of animal welfare, veterinary medicine and the education of the general public in the various issues pertaining to the care and treatment of all animals.”
He died in 2006 having earned a lifetime of achievements. A catalog of them would be so large as to tire even the most devoted of his friends and admirers. His silent philanthropy and support of the young continues with a scholarship in his name at Notre Dame High School. The Martin name is likewise preserved at Auburn University where he and his beloved wife, Betty Jane (Underwood), were recognized as major benefactors and accepted into the prestigious 1856 Society.
Oogie was small in statue but a giant in life!!
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