Students, staff mourn passing of Fletcher Professor William Martel

Students and colleagues have spent much of the past week mourning and celebrating the life of William Martel, an associate professor of international security studies at the Fletcher School of International Law and Diplomacy, who passed away Jan. 12 after battling leukemia.

Described by Dean of the Fletcher School James Stavridis as “a wonderful human being” and “an amazing teacher,” Martel was also popular among the students he taught and mentored.

Rockford Weitz, the entrepreneur coach at the Fletcher School and a former Ph.D. advisee of Martel, described him as “universally well liked by Fletcher’s faculty, staff and students.”

“Bill embodied Fletcher’s mission to prepare global leaders to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges,” Weitz told the Daily in an email. “He combined theory and practice, as a scholar and a policymaker. He was equally comfortable interfacing with global leaders, such as Admiral [Michael] McMullen or former Defense Secretary [Robert] Gates, and students, staff and faculty from all walks of life. He cared about people and made an effort to get to know nearly every member of the Fletcher community.”

Martel’s ability to connect with students and colleagues was a defining characteristic, and current Ph.D. student Torrey Taussig, who had Martel as an adviser, echoed this sentiment.

“He was never just a professor,” Taussig said. “He always tried to be an incredible mentor to students as well. He really provided a lot of direction and support and he did so while maintaining such a friendly and positive demeanor.”

Political Science Lecturer Irina Chindea, a Ph.D. candidate at the Fletcher School, took Martel’s leadership course while attaining her master’s degree. She said she appreciated Martel’s constant willingness to mentor students, including those to whom he was not an adviser.

“Even if you didn’t have him as an adviser, his door was always open,” she said. “He was responsive and extremely nice without having any binding obligation.”

Martel was active in Republican politics and served as a senior policy adviser to former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney during his 2012 campaign, according to a Jan. 18 article in the Boston Herald. Weitz noted, however, that Martel was “bipartisan in his commitment to helping policymakers in Washington.”

His research was often aided by students, according to Taussig, who said he always sought to build opportunities for his students outside of their coursework.

“When something like this happens, you think about the legacy that they’ll leave at the school,” she said. “He was a brilliant strategist, and he was always asking big questions. He had an incredibly accomplished career, but I think his greatest legacy at Fletcher will be in the students whose lives he influenced and on whom he had such a positive impact, and I think he would be happy to know that that would be his legacy.”

Stavridis described Martel’s legacy in four components—his scholarship, his teaching, his thoughtfulness and his commitment to his family.

“He was just a wonderful human being,” Stavridis said. “He was always upbeat, he always had a smile on his face and he greeted everyone … He was just a kind, thoughtful and wonderful colleague to everyone in the school.”

Martel is survived by his wife and two children. Funeral services took place this past Monday, but Stavridis said the Fletcher School is working with his family to plan a memorial service on campus this spring.