By Sherrie Norris
Martha Guy was known as a trailblazer, a forward-thinking business woman who went against the grain as she completed her formal education and followed her father into the banking business.
Her death on Saturday, October 12 at the age of 97, has left a void that none will ever fill, but has left many reflecting on a life well lived and the countless contributions she made in this area and beyond.
She died quietly at her home, leaving the world much like the way she had lived it — with peace and grace.
Guy never wavered in her love for her hometown of Newland, always ready to serve in any capacity she could to make life better for others.
Her resume, if she ever wrote one, would be too lengthy to print. But, her dedication to others is written in the hearts and minds of thousands she has served through the years, in one capacity or another, whether directly or otherwise.
Many youngsters growing up in her shadow remained in awe of the dignified, well-dressed woman who was always everywhere doing everything, making us believe that we could accomplish anything to which we set our minds.
Her no-nonsense public persona was often mistaken, as those who got to know her well on a personal level can attest. Her warmth, generosity and faith in God and her fellow man were easily recognized in more intimate settings.
Many of us would not have gotten our first car or financial assistance for our first home as easily without Martha Guy and her belief in us and that we would do the right thing and repay it as promised. We would not have gotten an “extension” on our loan when things got tough without her patience and understanding. It wasn’t always easy going before her to ask for those favors, but we rarely left without hope and reassurance.
Those are the memories many of us will carry within our hearts for many years to come.
Longtime friend and business associate, John Blackburn, shared with High Country Press on Monday morning, “Martha was a driving force in the betterment of the people in the mountains. She was generous with her advice, time and monetary gifts. Her kind spirit enabled many people in Avery county to achieve better health, schools and job training.”
Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye said in his opinion there was no one who embodied the spirit of Avery County as did Martha Guy – a true icon, he described. “Growing up in an age when women were not expected to be community leaders, Martha Guy or ‘Miss Martha’ as she was affectionately referred, shattered that glass ceiling. On a personal note, when Miss Martha found out that my son was going to college to become a pharmacist, she privately gave him some funding, but wanted no recognition for her actions. That was the kind of person Miss Martha was. She would help people, but didn’t desire recognition. She told me she had enough recognition to last for a lifetime. Martha was the face of Avery County Bank since just after WWII, and so many people owe her for being kind — and forgiving late payments during hard times — or loaning money to begin businesses or purchase homes. Miss Martha was kind and generous, but she was not a successful business person by only having a heart, she could be the most determined and stubborn person you could ever face — especially if someone tried to take advantage of her. In many ways and characteristics, Martha Guy reminded me of England’s Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Both were women of grace and resolve — and not to be taken lightly. Avery County owes so much to Martha Guy for her unyielding devotion to our county and its people. She will be greatly missed and memories of her greatly cherished.”
On behalf of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, President of Cannon Memorial Hospital Carmen Lacey, had this to say: “Martha Guy was a prominent leader who cared deeply about her community and those populations at highest risk – children, elderly, those living in poverty, and those in need of healthcare. Service to the community, region and state were always a priority for Martha. She sat on countless boards within the region, including The Crossnore School, the Williams YMCA, Cannon Memorial Hospital, Mayland Community College, Appalachian State University, Mars Hill College, Warren Wilson College, Montreat College and The Morrison Trust. Having been on boards with her, I have seen firsthand that Martha was truly interested in making a difference and provided thoughtful guidance in ensuring the success of each entity that she served. As a trustee of the Morrison Trust, Martha was supportive of the needs of both Sloop and Cannon Memorial Hospitals — x-ray equipment, operating room equipment, the replacement of roofs, and many other day-to-day items that are needed in order for us to care for patients. She was a true matriarch within our community and will be missed!”
According to her obituary, Martha Guy was born in Newland on August 20, 1922 to the late Edwin C. and the late Mary Bruce Landis Guy
Except for her time away at school, she lived her entire life in Newland. She was a tireless advocate for western North Carolina and was inducted into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society by Governor Roy Cooper in 2017 as a testament to that work. She will be remembered for her love of North Carolina, her strong faith, her achievements in banking, her decades of community service, and her dedication to her family and friends.
She attended Newland High School until 1936 when she was enrolled at Montreat College High School. Upon graduation from Montreat, she was enrolled at Lees-McCrae College and graduated in June 1940 with an associate degree. For her final years of college, she attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry in 1942.
She was employed by Avery County Bank for more than 60 years, from 1942 until she retired in 2003.
Her banking career began when her father, the bank’s founder, asked her to return from Chapel Hill to help him while her brothers were overseas during WWII.
During her long tenure, she held many positions, ranging from assistant cashier to president. She also served on the Avery County Bank Board of Directors for many years. Throughout her career, she served on many state and national banking organizations, including as treasurer of the Independent Bankers of America. She was inducted into the North Carolina Banking Hall of Fame in 2010 and was honored by the NC Bankers Association with its Legends of Banking Award.
Throughout her life, she dedicated much of her time to community service, including the advancement of higher education and health care in Western North Carolina. She served on the board of Crossnore School beginning in 1956, serving as the chairman for part of this time. She served as the chairman of the board for the Avery County Board of Education and as chairman of the board of Sloop Hospital. She also served on the boards of Cannon Hospital and the Williams YMCA of Avery County. She served as a trustee of the Morrison Charitable Trust since 1968.
In 2012, she was named a “Legend of Avery County” by the YMCA and was honored with the Pinnacle Society Lifetime Achievement Award by the Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation in 2014 for her years of contributions to healthcare in Western North Carolina.
In the area of higher education, she served on the Board of Visitors at UNC-CH, as a founding trustee at Mayland Community College, and on the boards of directors and visitors at Mars Hill College, the Warren Wilson College, Lees-McCrae College, Montreat College and Appalachian State University. She received honorary degrees from both Appalachian State University (Doctor of Laws) and Montreat (Doctor of Human Letters) and was an emeritus trustee of Lees-McCrae College.
She founded the Martha Guy Summer Institute for Future Business Leaders at ASU in 2004 and was honored with the naming of the Martha Guy Laboratories at UNCH-CH in 2004.
She was a member of Newland Presbyterian Church throughout her lifetime. She was a Sunday School teacher for more than 30 years and served as an elder for several years, as well. She served as moderator for the Presbytery of Western North Carolina and as a member of the Presbyterian Church Investment and Loan Program in Louisville, KY.
In addition to all of her business and community accomplishments, she will be remembered for her intelligence, generosity, loyalty, love of travelling, and enjoying the company of friends and family. She will be terribly missed by her family, none of whom know a world in which she was not in it.
She is survived by one sister, Dorothy G. Potter of Newland, 11 nieces and nephews including, Anne P. Love (Wayne) of Cary,, Margaret G. Brooks (Fred) of Raleigh, Martha Guy of Raleigh, Mary Bruce McKenzie Serene (Jim) of State College, Penn., Dr. Burt McKenzie (Nancy) of Chapel Hill, Lissa McKenzie Peterkin (William) of Ft. Motte, SC, Jane McKenzie Cartner (Jim) of Statesville, Elizabeth McKenzie Warlick (William) of Mebane, Norman Potter, Jr. (Patricia) of Winston-Salem, Mark Potter (Kathy) of Tampa, Fla., and Elizabeth Potter Schuster (Joe) of Cumming, Ga.; 22 great nieces and nephews, and 15 great-great nieces and nephews, as well as hundreds of friends and colleagues.
A celebration of Guy’s life will be held Tuesday, October 15 at 2 p.m. at Newland Presbyterian Church in Newland. Following the service, the family will receive friends in the church fellowship hall. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Ms. Guy’s honor to Newland Presbyterian Church P.O. Box 579 Newland, NC 28657.
Words of comfort and memories may be shared with the Guy family by visiting the website of Reins Sturdivant Funeral Home at www.rsfh.net.