-by Emily Akin- Audrey Roberts originally came to Martin for its small-town atmosphere. The long-time Martin resident and retired president of Martin Manufacturing Company was looking for a community like her home town of Claymont, Delaware. “We all knew each other and looked out for each other,” she said. And she found just what she was looking for in Martin.
It was 1969. With no family left in Delaware, Roberts wanted a change of venue. “I answered an ad in the paper for the position at Martin Manufacturing,” she said. “I moved here with two pre-school children and two in high school,” she said. “My oldest son was in the military in Vietnam at the time.” The 1970 census shows Martin with nearly 8,000 people and Claymont with 7,000, so the towns were about the same size. And she discovered the sense of community was similar, too. Audrey came here as vice-president of the company, which then had a plant in Martin and another in Ramer, Tennessee. Later, she was promoted to executive vice president. When the company was sold, Audrey was promoted to president, where she stayed until her retirement in 2002.
Being a manufacturing manager and a single parent to four children was a challenge for Audrey. “Sometimes, I took the kids along to work-related meetings. That was their vacation,” she said. She appreciates how the Martin community accepted her, encouraged her, and helped her raise her children. When the younger two were in elementary school, they took dance lessons after school. Friends helped get them to and from lessons. “They treated them just like their own,” Roberts said. “If they needed something, those parents took care of it. If my two were out of line, they handled that too.”
To show her appreciation, Audrey has volunteered on more community committees and boards than we could count. Martin Rotary Club is a priority for her. She is a facilitator/teacher for the Rotary Leadership Institute which provides communication and leadership training. She was instrumental in the organization of Martin Business Association, its goal to bring businesses and shoppers to downtown. She was first chairman and remains a member. Also, Roberts was appointed to the Martin Beautiful Committee. “We had an annual lawn and garden show for about five years, but we are no longer doing that, she said.
Soon after coming here, Audrey joined Philharmonic Music Guild, a local music club that fosters the cause of music in the community. She said she took dancing lessons as a child (instead of music) because her mother thought she needed the exercise. “I like music, and the club provides great programs. I attended concerts on campus and met club members that way,” she said. She was president 1999-2001.
For some time, Audrey has served on the Federal Prison Industry Board, which provides work training for prisoners in federal facilities around the country. Board members oversee training of workers and the quality of the products they produce. The board was originally established in 1934 during the Roosevelt administration. FDR’s purpose was to get some work out of prisoners and teach skills to help them get jobs after their release. Audrey was appointed by President George W. Bush. During her working years, Audrey was also a member of The American Apparel Association, an organization of manufacturers of clothing in the US.
Audrey remains on the UTM Women’s Center Advisory Board as a community member. For a long time, she was on the WLJT (public television) board of directors. Her latest interest is the Weldon Library Foundation. Meetings are scheduled this fall to develop a plan to enlarge the children’s portion of the library. David Warren, a specialist in library planning and architecture is consulting on the project. Audrey said Rotary and other civic groups will be asked to help. Recently, she joined the board of the Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, located in Jackson. To draw attention to the cause, she often takes visitors over to Tiptonville to see the Perkins home and visitor center.
Thirteen years after her retirement from the workplace, Audrey thinks she needs to slow down. She said, “I’m trying to say no.” Like most seniors, she forgets things sometimes and doesn’t handle stress as well as she used to. She still has plenty of family duties, helping with grandchildren as substitute carpooler and backup babysitter. Her daughter keeps horses and guineas on acreage around Audrey’s home. “I don’t take care of the animals,” Audrey said. “My daughter does that.”
“I’ve enjoyed watching Martin grow and develop since I’ve been here,” Audrey said. With all her volunteer work, I’d say that she’s made a significant contribution to that growth.