Earle Plain Martin, III
Loving husband, father, son, brother and uncle, Earle Plain Martin III was with the Lord on December 31, 2020 at the age of 65 after battling the complications of COVID-19.
He is survived by his wife, Deborah Bearden Martin; his sons Thomas Martin (fiancée Allison Trost), Daniel Martin and Grant Martin; Father, Earle P. Martin Jr. (Nancy); Brother Grant Martin (Rev. Paul Fromberg); Sister Melinda Martin Stubbs (Samuel); Nephews Andrew Stubbs, MD (Leigh Anna Stubbs, MD), Charles Stubbs, Maxwell Stubbs; Niece Whitney Stubbs Newton (Mark) and great-niece Jolene Newton. In front of him lie his mother Katherine Cummings Martin and his son Earle Plain Martin IV.
Earle is remembered as an extremely accommodating, honest and sincere man. He loved and cared for his family as a devoted husband and dedicated father. He loved his job and left a lucrative law firm to become a successful air charter pilot. On a more practical level, Earle loved walking fast; Not only did he fly his plane, but he also rode go-karts and roller coasters repeatedly with his sons. He loved stories, told and recorded them all the time. He fell asleep watching classic films and leafing through books on historical figures. He shared what he had learned with enthusiasm and eloquence. When Earle walked in, you knew exactly who he was and what interested him.
Mid-Coast Air Charter customers recall Earle’s attempts to pay attention, save them money, or go the extra mile. Each year he hand-delivered over a hundred pecan tarts for the holidays and often stayed up until the wee hours to make fresh fruit bowls before a trip. His respectful treatment of employees at all levels within his aviation hub at Hobby Airport earned him the nickname “Captain Beloved”. They put it on a sign on his office door.
Earle III was born in Houston, TX on August 14, 1955, to Earle and Katherine. He was the oldest of three children and took on the role at a young age. He was mature and brilliant in his school beyond his years. He attended various schools in the Houston area while growing up. Although he had only entered Kinkaid School as a junior, he was elected class president in his senior year. Earle delivered the 1973 senior class address and concluded with his classmates, “They have shown themselves to be people who are willing and able to do things rather than watch others do them.” Earle attended Vanderbilt University and served as treasurer of the Phi Kappa Psi Brotherhood. He received his law degree from the University of Texas, where he did Law Review. It was during this time that Earle developed a passion for flying and received his pilot’s license.
He returned to Houston in 1980 and joined Vinson & Elkins as an attorney for the Business, Real Estate and Energy Group, led by the late Rush Record. Although he loved his colleagues and worked tirelessly for the company, Earle’s dream was to be in the air. After three years at Vinson & Elkins, he made a decision that would change his life forever: he quit his law firm and started his own private air charter. Friends and family would love to cheer “Air Earle” on as it laid the foundation for a three-decade career. It started with an obvious clientele: lawyers who had to travel for travel recruitment. Earle put on a suit and tie, nodded to his roots, and was a memorable element of the first class service he would provide to any customer.
Before leaving Vinson & Elkins, Earle met Deborah Bearden, although they could have met much earlier. Deborah – two years younger than Earle – walked the same hallways at St. John’s School as Earle did in elementary school. If they didn’t cross there, they could almost certainly do it in Vanderbilt or Texas, which Deborah attended while Earle was still on campus. In 1984 they enjoyed a single date together and went their separate ways. Four years later, after Deborah returned from Boston, they were invited on a blind date by a mutual friend, sparking a romance that led to their engagement after just eight months. The two married in July 1989 and spent 31 years together in a loving, harmonious union.
Earle once flew Deborah to New Braunfels for a date that floated the Guadalupe. His aviation business, Personal Air Charter, began to grow and in 1988 he met another charter business owner, Jack Chapman. The two began referring customers to each other until Earle joined Chapman’s Mid-Coast Air Charter business as a co-pilot. In 1996, Chapman left the company to pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot and sold Mid-Coast Air Charter to Earle. With the deal came his valuable possession: the plane, a Mitsubishi MU-2. One cannot imagine a stronger relationship between pilot and airplane.
Earle believed in the capabilities of the MU-2 so much that he dedicated himself to its community of pilots and owners. He offered the time and money to speak publicly to the aircraft’s reputation when it was scrutinized in the press. He single-handedly gathered to conduct industry-wide product surveys. As a result, Mitsubishi kept its number one for 18 years. A colleague called him “Mitsubishi Mr.” for his service to his new and long-time pilot. During his flying career, he became known for his undue emphasis on training and safety. And he never drank alcohol; only unsweetened iced tea with lemon.
Many of Earle’s loyal customer bases stayed with him for decades. He has also had his share of special projects that have flown donated organs to hospitals and the injured on stretchers. He once flew the sick son of a family friend across country because it would ensure the best care. And when he wasn’t flying oil workers to direct rig blowouts and hunters to ranches and businessmen and senior officials, he took time to fly his no-revenue passengers: his family. Deborah, Tom, Daniel and Grant Martin would swap chances on the way to the White House, Mt. Rushmore, Niagara Falls and so many other American attractions. Earle prioritized one thing in particular: Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, home of the first flight. A picture of his MU-2 in front of the Wright Brothers National Memorial hangs in his office to this day. He just loved to fly. And to the surprise of many, he often cruised through blue skies and cumulus clouds to an XM radio soundtrack: Broadway Showtunes.
In later life, Earle would take up what he called “urban walking” and walk for miles to and from any destination that most needed a vehicle to get to. During his business trips, he went from the airport to his hotel. He was once discovered outside of Hebbronville, TX by a Jet Aviation line technician, and Earle’s previous kindness led the line technician to offer him a ride. In Houston, Earle traded his luxury sedan for a pickup. His main focus was driving the family’s black lab, Steele, to restaurant patios to share lunch there. The waiters in their usual places knew they had a grilled chicken and water ready. Not for Earle, for the dog. Earle loved having dinner with his family at the River Oaks Country Club before walking the three miles back home.
Earle’s last few days at home had a fond memory: his son Tom became engaged to his fiancée, Aly, with whom Earle had been on quiet meaningful phone calls for months. Earle saw the ring the day before he was admitted to the Houston Methodist Hospital. He peacefully transitioned to the sounds of a CD that played family members’ messages and songs to keep him comfortable and calm, including Broadway show tunes. The grieving family takes comfort in knowing that Earle led the life he wanted to live, achieved so much, and influenced the lives of so many. In his own words he was “just glad to be here”.
The family would like to thank the incredible Houston Methodist doctors and nurses who have looked after Earle wonderfully.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Houston Food Bank, Brookwood Community, or St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.
A small family service will be held on Tuesday, January 12th at 4:00 p.m. CT. Guests are invited to view the Services on YouTube via a live stream link found on the St. Martin website at https://stmartinsepiscopal.org/funerals.
Published in the Houston Chronicle on January 10, 2021.