Remembering Martha Veasey: “A Great Human Being Who Will Never Be Forgotten
by Nanette Massey
Born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania to Samuel Ralph and Emma Hemphill, Martha Veasey’s family eventually settled in Buffalo along with seven other siblings. After a short marriage and one daughter, Martha chose to focus on her career. She graduated from Sisters Hospital School of Nursing, then worked at Buffalo General for 21 years, eventually becoming Unit Manager. Her continued desire to help others led her to enroll at Canisius College, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
Immediately she began working at Canisius as a counselor in the C.O.P.E office, administering both the Arthur Eve and MLK scholarship grants. After finishing her Master’s Degree, Martha was made the school’s Director of Community Relations in 1992. Responsibility as Director of Disability Support Services was added to her charge as well. Eugene Marshall at Loyola University in Baltimore, a founding member of “Conference on Diversity and Equity” (AJCUCDE), speaks of working with Martha with great fondness and admiration. “She was always in the background, yet always in the forefront of dealing with issues of support and inclusion at our [28 Jesuit] colleges.
Martha was a dear friend, like having a sister in another city. Even after her retirement, I still sent her postcards from every one of our organization’s conferences.” Her advocacy within C.D.E led to the inception of the Canisius ALANA Student Center, providing extra support for Asian, Latin, African, and Native-American students who might have felt somewhat out of place. Martha was an integral part of managing the college’s and community’s “growing pains” as Canisius began buying properties in the surrounding Main and Jefferson neighborhood to house students. Student hours and behaviors were clashing with area families. Martha saw to it that the school’s plans and local tax payers’ concerns were brought into alignment. She welcomed the challenge, saying “I see it as an effort to help Canisius diversify, and as a way of helping the black community retain its progressiveness.” Martha and Elverna Gidney, retired U.B. administrator and community activist, co-created Buffalo Education Task Force, through C.A.O. of Erie County, which continues to award scholarships and support to high school students accepted to college.
They commissioned a survey in the early 80’s which found that area graduating seniors just were not making it to colleges in acceptable numbers. The harvest of that data produced the Annual College Fair every September, and January’s Annual Scholarship Fair connecting families with the information and resources needed to rethink the possibility of higher education’s fit in their lives.
Ms. Gidney remembers that Martha “was an eloquent speaker and a beautiful woman who came from a great legacy of community activists within her family.” She was the recipient of Canisius’ Martin Luther King Award in 1992. After years of loyal and dedicated service, Martha retired from the college in 2007. Martha was also heavily involved in many projects and societies that cared for the Buffalo community including the Hamlin Park Community and Taxpayers Association, and the Martin Luther King Project of WNY. Former colleagues and associates knew her to be a valued sounding board post-retirement. “She was a great woman, leader and mentor who will be sorely missed,” says U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Western District of New York, the Hon. Hugh B. Scott. After a prolonged illness, Martha Veasey passed away January 1, 2018.
She is survived by her daughter Deborah (Garthel), grandchildren Jaeda, Jesse, Elise, and Mitchell; great-granddaughters Amerie and Olivia, sisters Shirley and Bernice, brother David, a host of beloved nieces and nephews and extended family, and special friend William Bailey. Adds Sababu Norris, current administrator at ALANA, “It’s great that the Challenger will highlight a great human being. Because of this and more, Ms. Martha Veasey will never be forgotten.”