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Shelter Island Reporter obituary: Martin Mayer

Martin Mayer died at age 91 on Aug. 1 at his home on Shelter Island.

Martin was a prolific author, journalist and critic. Effortlessly able to balance work and so many other aspects of his life, he took an interest in nearly everything around him and found a way to write about it.

Martin Mayer

Born in Manhattan on Jan. 14, 1928, Martin was the only child of Henry and Ruby Mayer.

In 1949, he married Ellen Moers, an author and professor of literature. She died in 1979. In 1980, he married Karin Lissakers, a Swedish-born academic and former State Department official who subsequently became the United States executive director of the International Monetary Fund. She continues to reside in their beloved Silver Beach home.

Martin first came to Shelter Island in 1956. He rented a house with Ellen, and their oldest son, then 2 years old, in Shorewood. In 1958, he and Ellen bought a house in Silver Beach.

He worked on his own schedule, writing mostly at night, and played golf and tennis during the day (though those who spent time with him during the day could tell when his mind was constructing the chapters he would type out in rapid-fire later that evening). He came to Shelter Island in part because he was a golfer, and back in the 1950s, Gardiner’s Bay Country Club was looking for new members, and accepted Jews.

He fell in love with the Island and has had a presence here ever since.

While not an athlete, he played both golf and tennis into his early 80s, often frustrating opponents (including his younger children) with a wingspan that covered the court from end to end and a slice that didn’t bounce.

On the putting green, his unconventional and ever-changing stroke sometimes confounded his partners — but it usually got the job done. He loved the Island and his home in Silver Beach. He spent every summer here for 63 years and lived here permanently for the last 10.

He wrote 40 books over five decades, about Wall Street, Madison Avenue, education, banking, television, builders, diplomats and judges; he was an investigative journalist who broke the story of fire-trap housing at Roosevelt Island, exposed institutionalized corruption on Wall Street and chronicled the catastrophe of New York’s three teachers’ strikes in 1968.

He also wrote with great insight and admiration about music and musicians. Though he played no instrument and had no singing voice, he was Esquire’s music critic for 20 years, official chronicler of the Metropolitan Opera, the first American critic to write for a general audience about Maria Callas in the 1950s and Luciano Pavarotti in the 1970s.

When he was 15, Martin entered Harvard and graduated, just barely, in 1947 (it took him a couple of more years to actually complete the foreign language requirement before he could get the degree). He was by his own account a terrible student, spending most of his time playing poker and bridge and attending only the classes that interested him. He wrote for The Harvard Crimson under an assumed name because he was almost always on probation.

Martin is survived by his wife, Karin Lissakers; two sons, Tom and Jim, from his first marriage; one daughter, Fredrica, and one son, Henry, from his second; as well as five grandchildren — all of whom inherited his love of literature, music and Shelter Island. As his eldest son, Tom said, “Until Parkinson’s took hold, he lived the life he wanted to live, and he enjoyed every minute of it.”

Donations may be made in his name to the following organizations — please indicate that the donation is in Martin’s memory and request notification to the family:

Shelter Island Ambulance Foundation, PO Box 547, Shelter Island, NY 11964.

Metropolitan Opera Association Inc. Mail to Office of Planned Giving,

Metropolitan Opera, 30 Lincoln Center, New York, NY 10023.