In Memory of Uncle Marty (1929-2017)
January 30, 2017

It's always hard to say goodbye to someone you love. It's especially hard when that someone was not only someone you love, but loved you, his whole family, everyone around him, and life itself. Everyone that knew him, including life itself, loved him back. My uncle, Martin Small, died Friday evening at the age of 87. He passed away peacefully and comfortably, surrounded by family, at St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank.

As the time was approaching, and I notified my boss I would be taking some time off, he was glad to help, and then asked me, “Is he a good guy?” I was a little taken back by the question, and while thinking “of course he is!”, I was also trying to come up with something better to illustrate the point. In seconds, this story came to me, told to me by one of his daughters.

The family was all out to eat one night at a nice restaurant. They were having a good time, and other diners noticed that they were really enjoying themselves and each other's company. Strangers were coming up to Uncle Marty, complimenting his on what a great family he had, and maybe wishing theirs had a relationship as good. So even people he didn't know, but came in contact with, could see what a good guy he was.

There are not very many people that you can say this about, but how many people do you know who actually made the world a better place? Uncle Marty did. Not only the love for his wife, four children, nine grandchildren, four step-grandchildren, and many others (including his only “true” nephew, which he liked to remind me of a lot), but just for wanting and making things better.

He was a veterinarian for over 50 years. His hospital was across the street from NBC Studios in beautiful downtown Burbank, and he had some TV and movie stars as clients. However it was after his “retirement” that he really went to work. He volunteered his time and expertise at the Burbank animal shelter, vaccinating dogs and cats, and helping control and improve the feral cat population. He was even Burbank's Citizen of the Year in 2012.

Even his last day on this planet was an example. The doctor told us at 11am that he only had a couple of hours left. Some friends stopped by, a client came in. One grandson was on his way, but wouldn't be in until about 4pm. Uncle Marty was still with us. As the afternoon turned into evening, burst of crying and sadness would give way to some light background music and stories. Not having eaten much all day, we ordered pizza. The crying, stories, and music continued until we were done eating. Around 8 o'clock, as if the day was over and it was time for bed, he silently slipped away.

For me, there will always be many memories. Going to Dodger and Laker games as a kid (also the only time I've ever been to Staples Center was with him, and Kobe Bryant had a triple-double that night), a river rafting trip on the Rogue when I was 19 (I was the youngest, he might have been the oldest, but didn't act like it, even making sure I could drink some beer when the guide wasn't looking), giving me advice whether it was medical or just about life in general, a hot-air balloon trip with Korey and my mom on mom's 85th birthday), and mostly carving the turkey on Thanksgiving (photo above from 2013), and just being there with him at the head of the table.

There can't be a much better way to fill 87 years. He married the love of his life, raised four children to all become fantastic people in their own right. He saw them all get married, have children of their own, went from one grandchild's event to another to another, saw them grow up, and even traveled with them. He had a successful veterinary practice, gave back to the community after he retired, and still always had time to root on his favorite teams.

Even though he wasn't responsive on that final day except for an occasional squeeze of the hand, the doctor said he could hear us. The doctor said to tell him that we love him, we know he loves us, and we'll be alright. We told him that while he was still breathing, and even again after he stopped. The last thing I said to him: “You had a hell of a life, Uncle Marty. Love you.” We all love you, we know you love us, and it doesn't sound possible at this point but we'll trust the doctor. We'll be alright.

Services for Martin Small will be Thursday at 12:30pm at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Burbank. Don't be surprised if the entire city is there :)

Burbank's Citizen of the Year. (2012)

Uncle Marty and Mom about a thousand feet up on a balloon ride. (2011)

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