Marty Fitzhenry - A Life Well Lived

Barry Lewis

When I first met Marty, more than a quarter-century ago, I had recently written Myron Biggar about possibly writing product reviews for O Gauge Railroading magazine — and was surprised to find my name on the masthead in the next issue as Product Review Editor. Things were pretty loose back then, and that was how Myron did things.

Problem was, I had no layout on which to test things. But I had heard about this guy who lived a couple towns over and had a layout that folks referred to as Passenger Train Heaven. So I showed up at Marty Fitzhenry’s door and for almost a decade, his was the unofficial test layout for OGR product reviews. We had our high points – helping discover the “light bulb trick” in the initial review of the DCS command control system – and our LOL moments – like the time I ran Lionel’s Commodore Vanderbilt through an open bridge into a nose-dive to the floor. To our surprise, there wasn’t a scratch on it. (Whew!) Through it all, I was one of the hundreds of folks who benefited from Marty’s open-door policy: If you loved trains, you were always welcome in his house.

Marty was typical of most boys who grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s: he loved planes, trains and automobiles. In his military years, he’d served as a helicopter, prop plane and jet engine mechanic on the aircraft carriers Intrepid and Randolph, and he had more than a passing familiarity with the WWII aircraft that many of us loved. At one point, he carried on an email correspondence with Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb. It seemed like Marty knew everybody – and could talk shop with anybody. Doyle McCormick, engineer of Daylight 4449, was in his cell phone contacts, along with almost everybody in the O Gauge modeling community.

He was a talented gearhead – as were several of his friends in the train community, including the late Lou Caponi, who was an enthusiastic hot rodder. While he drove modest cars for everyday use, Marty always had a vintage Corvette in his garage — usually accompanied by another car he was working on, for the used-car business he used to support his train hobby.

He could fix anything, from cars to virtually any Lionel or M.T.H. train — or practically anything else. When I needed help installing a storm door, Marty showed up with his toolbox, for both advice and moral support. He was the most talented train technician I ever met. It always amazed me how those big hands of his could handle the most impossibly delicate repairs on a circuit board or other components.

His friendship with Mike Wolf began in the earliest days of Mike’s career, when Marty approached Mike’s table at York and, noticing Mike’s youth, asked to speak to his father. Mike quickly corrected Marty that he was the proprietor of the business, and thus began a four-decade friendship — highlighted by an ongoing rivalry between Mike’s beloved Miami Dolphins and Marty’s equally beloved New England Patriots. Each of them lost many a game-day bet to the other.

In his day job, Marty was a policeman and a detective his entire career. More than anyone else I know, Marty embodied the perennial police motto “To Protect and Serve.” In the O Gauge community, of course, he was known as the guy you could contact anytime with a question or problem. But in his home town, he was also the “go to” guy for myriad friends and children of friends when they found themselves in a jam, or their car broke down, or they needed help in some other way. Marty had an uncanny talent for making friends in all walks of life and putting those people together when they could help each other out.

He loved new technology. When Lionel and M.T.H. introduced command control, Marty was at the forefront of exploring its possibilities, solving problems, acting as a DCS Beta tester, and sharing solutions with others. He was an early adopter of internet communication. In a world where online communication often became a way for folks to avoid personal contact, Marty went the other way. Along with other members of the OGR Forum, he built a huge community of personal support, group problem solving, and genuine empathy. What the internet was supposed to be, became a reality in the Forum community.

Finally, no appreciation of Marty’s life would be complete without Dotty Perry. Those of us who knew Marty for a long time, knew him through a succession of girlfriends, all of them nice, but none of whom really understood his love of trains and the friendships they brought him — until he met Dotty. For the past 14 years, she became one of the gang and deepened his friendships with everyone around him. If you loved Marty, you loved him even more when Dotty was around. It came to him late, but Marty found the love of his life.

Moreover, Dotty became the most selfless caregiver for Marty one could ever imagine. This was particularly so during the last few years that Marty was with us. She quietly tended to all Marty's trials and tribulations without any expectation of rewards or praise. She made it possible for his enjoyment of life to be both sustained and extended.

They say you’re not really gone until people stop talking about you. If that’s the case, Marty will be with us for a long time yet, as his friends retell stories of his kindness, generosity, talent, and sense of fun.