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Beloved former Richmond-area coach, referee Lou Martin dies at 88
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Beloved former Richmond-area coach, referee Lou Martin dies at 88

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He got along with everyone.

That was a constant of Lou Martin’s life, during which he wore several hats in the local athletics scene.

He was a well-known and well-respected basketball official for more than five decades. He also coached multiple teams, including the VCU baseball squad in the program’s early years.

Mr. Martin navigated his positions with charisma, leaving a mark on those he encountered.

“Lou was one of these guys that was friendly, and he probably never met people that were his enemy,” said Jim Sangston, a former basketball coach and longtime athletics director at Douglas Freeman High School. “He was very outgoing. He wouldn’t be afraid to speak up to anybody, any time.”

His wife of 46 years, Anne Martin, said the love of Mr. Martin’s life was sports. In more recent years, entertainment for the two included trips to Richmond basketball games.

But Mr. Martin’s health deteriorated in the last year. He battled multiple ailments, including Parkinson’s disease.

He died on Thursday at St. Mary’s Hospital. He was 88.

“He was a lot of fun. We’d have a lot of fun with all different people, in the sports world, or not in the sports world,” Anne said. “But most of our life was in the sports world. I went to diamonds and I went to gymnasiums. I was with him all the time.”

Mr. Martin graduated from Benedictine High School and Randolph-Macon College and served in the Army.

He went on to work for multiple pro baseball organizations. Among them was the Richmond Virginians (Yankees affiliate), the Peninsula Grays (Reds affiliate), the Richmond Braves (Braves affiliate), the Louisville Colonels (Red Sox affiliate), the Tidewater Tides (Mets affiliate), the Winnipeg Whips (Expos affiliate) and the Montreal Expos.

Mr. Martin also was an athletic business manager at VCU during 1974-75.

He was hired as VCU’s baseball coach in September 1978, and held the position for the 1979 through 1982 seasons. Those were the eighth through 11th seasons of the program’s existence.

He went 60-104-2, but the program progressed.

“He was the coach who started turning baseball around at VCU,” Anne said. “He started to say, ‘No, we’re not going to play these schools, we’re going to upgrade.’ Even if it meant that they don’t stand a chance of winning.

“‘We got to turn the program around.’ He firmly believed in that.”

While coaching the VCU baseball team, Mr. Martin continued to officiate high school hoops games. He was one of the area’s top referees, Sangston said. He earned assignments for many higher-profile matchups.

George Lancaster, a longtime Highland Springs boys basketball coach, said Mr. Martin could be trusted to call a good game.

“I always thought he was fair,” Lancaster said. “You may have been partial, but I thought that he was fair and just.”

Another hat that Mr. Martin wore was as a sales representative for Dixie Sporting Goods, one of the leading suppliers of equipment to schools in the area.

With his outgoing nature, sales was another of Mr. Martin’s talents. That carried over to the hardwood, too.

“He could really sell a call, even if it was the worst call in the world or the best call in the world,” Sangston said. “If somebody complained about a call, he could make you believe that that was the right call, whether it was or whether it wasn’t. And most of the time it was; he was a good official.”

Mr. Martin, a referee for 55 years, also officiated volleyball.

He and Willis McCauley, who was an official for 59 years, were often on the same referee crews.

“He handled situations — if there was a tough situation, he did a good job of handling the players,” McCauley said. “And he had good communication with the players over the years.”

Mr. Martin also coached in Tuckahoe Little League, coached baseball and softball at Trinity Episcopal High School and coached golf at Goochland High School.

He and Anne met — “of course,” Anne said — on a softball diamond. She was playing for a company team and Mr. Martin was umpiring. That was 1974, and they were married the following spring.

Mr. Martin is survived by four children, 12 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

There will be a visitation Tuesday at Bliley’s Funeral Homes’ Central location at 3801 Augusta Ave. from 4 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral service will be held at Bliley’s on Wednesday at 10 a.m., followed by a burial at Westhampton.

“I’m sure that many people’s lives that he touched will be able to carry on the tradition in which he officiated, he coached and he lived,” Lancaster said.

wepps@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6442

Twitter: @wayneeppsjr

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