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Martha McElveen Ezzard
November 8, 1938 – October 29, 2023
After an adventurous 84 years, Martha Ezzard, journalist, former Colorado State Senator, attorney, and former winery owner passed away on Sunday, October 29 outside her home in Tiger, Georgia. Martha was born Martha Floyd McElveen to George Davant McElveen and Gladys Lewis McElveen in Atlanta. She grew up on the city’s West Side. Early in life, her parents taught her to voice her opinion in difficult situations, telling her silence meant consent. Martha went on to earn her BA in journalism at the University of Georgia, where she met the love of her life, John Arrendale Ezzard. She took a TV journalism job while John finished medical school, and the two of them were married in 1960. They moved to Colorado for John’s internship year, and Martha taught English at Littleton High School.
After living in Washington, D.C., where John served in the Army and daughters Shelly and Lisa were born, Martha and John took the family to Columbia, Missouri. Martha earned her Master’s in Journalism at the University of Missouri and modeled on a local daytime television show, while John completed his residency in Urology. They relocated to the Denver area in 1968 for John to begin private practice in Urology. Martha was active in the Junior League and in raising her young children, which now included John Jr, born in 1969.
In 1971, Martha was dreaming of jumping back into her journalism career, and in a bold move, interviewed for the position of Press Aide to Republican Governor John Love. To her great surprise, she was offered the job. When Governor Love took the post of energy czar under President Nixon, Martha continued as Press Aide to his successor John Vanderhoof.
After getting a taste of politics, Martha threw her hat into the ring to run as a Republican candidate for State Senate. She lost that election, but with her strong will and determined nature, ran in the following election cycle for the Colorado House of Representatives and won the seat. John, her greatest fan and supporter, walked door to door campaigning for her and helping with the children in addition to practicing medicine. Martha was elected to the Colorado State Senate in 1981, where she worked hard on issues related to water conservation, hazardous waste control, equal rights, and sunshine legislation to increase transparency of government proceedings. She served as chair of the Health and Environment Committee and was elected to chair the GOP Senate Caucus.
While Martha served in the Senate, she also attended law school, earned her JD and passed the bar, all as she and John were raising the three children. Her children remember that she made them a good old-fashioned Southern breakfast every morning before school and rarely missed a sporting event or ballet performance. They also remember that in her public and professional life, Martha was a force to be reckoned with—a maverick, an independent go-getter, a fighter for justice, and a woman determined to leave the world a better place.
Martha was a very independent-minded senator and refused to toe the party-line, sometimes ruffling feathers by working across the aisle and voting with the Democrats. In 1986, she ran for U.S. Senate and lost in the Republican primary. During the general election she felt strongly that the Democratic candidate, Tim Wirth, was a better choice and endorsed Tim Wirth before the general election. Shortly after the election, Martha resigned her State Senate seat and changed to the Democratic party—in that order—feeling that the Party of Lincoln no longer aligned with her centrist philosophy. In 1988, she won the Democratic candidate nomination for Colorado’s 6th Congressional and lost in the general election to the Republican incumbent.
After practicing law for several years, Martha returned to her love of journalism and moved back to her native Georgia to join the Editorial Board of the Atlanta Journal–Constitution in 1993. She had a regular political column and a weekly column. She also worked on special series and was most proud of her 2001 series on the need for indigent defense reform in Georgia; her 1995 series on hiking 80 miles of the Appalachian Trail as one of the journalists from five newspapers who combined efforts to hike the trail in its entirety; and her 1999 series on “The Trees of our Lives,” which focused on saving special old trees in the Atlanta area. In researching this series, she spent a night sleeping 100 ft up in the canopy of an enormous tulip poplar tree.
The Society of Professional Journalists recognized Martha with the Green Eyeshade 2002 First Place award in the Editorial Writing Category for the series “When Justice is a Crime.” She also received the 25th Annual Pioneer Black Journalist Award from the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists and the Wilderness Society’s Aldo Leopold Award for her environmental writing.
As Martha pursued her journalism career in Atlanta, her husband John was also drawn back to the South by the 5th generation family farm he grew up on in Tiger, Georgia. A farmer at heart, he began planting European grapes and pioneered the planting and growing of fine wines in Northeast Georgia. Martha commuted back and forth from the city to the farm, helping John create a successful vineyard and winery in the Appalachians called Tiger Mountain Vineyards (TMV). Martha helped John with planting and wine making, and focused on marketing. She helped put Georgia wines on the map, submitting Tiger Mountain wines to the nation’s most competitive competitions in California and elsewhere and winning over 250 awards for their fine wines, including a Jefferson Cup for the best wine in all categories. Martha promoted TMV wines in Atlanta’s fine restaurants, and dreamt up fabulous, bacchanalian parties. These included very popular “Awakening the Vines” parties in springtime, with a parade through the vineyards, led by Atlanta’s Abominable Seed and Feed Band dressed in full regalia. In the fall she organized a harvest party, where hundreds came together to harvest grapes and enjoy the latest vintages of wines 100% locally grown on Tiger Mountain.
In continued efforts to bring charm and beauty to the local community in Rabun County, she envisioned and planned the renovation of a 100-year-old barn on the property and created the Red Barn Café, where people far and wide could congregate, lay down their cell phones and celebrate each other and the beauty of a 5th generation farm brought to life.
Martha never laid down her creative pursuits as a writer. She went on to write a book published by Mercer University Press called The Second Bud, narrating the story of how she and John created a new second life and profession in their 60s by saving a family farm and starting a winery. Martha won Best Author of Georgia for this book which chronicles the colorful characters of old-time Appalachia with the new visions of a flourishing modern farm winery.
Martha’s family remembers her as bigger than life: a woman ahead of her time, strong willed, and committed to the environment, to justice, and to the communities in which she lived.
Martha is survived by her children Shelly Ezzard Smith (Brian) of Denver, Colorado; Lisa Ezzard (Brooks Franklin) of Otto, North Carolina; and John Ezzard (Catherine) of Vienna, Virginia; and her grandchildren Georgia O’Farrell, Samuel Smith, Sydney Smith, Sean Smith, Johna Ezzard, and Trimble James (TJ) Ezzard.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and St James Episcopal Church in Clayton, Georgia.
The family will hold a celebration of life service at Tiger Mountain, Georgia in the mid to late spring. Revisit this website at a future date for confirmed details.
Beck Funeral Home, in Clayton, Georgia, is in charge of the arrangements. If there are any questions, please call 706-782-9599. An online Memorial Register Book is available at www.beckfuneralhome.com.