Wiley Martin refused to allow cerebral palsy to keep him wheelchair-bound. Instead, he walked across the Ole Miss campus during his tenure on metal crutches.
At Ole Miss, Martin left an impact on many friends, including former football head coach Billy Brewer, former football player Jamie Holder and Will Norton, Jr., dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. In fact, football and basketball coaches and players alike were so fond of Martin, he was named an honorary member of the Ole Miss M-Club in 2017.
In 2016, Martin was diagnosed with prostate cancer that spread to his bones, and he was later admitted to the Asbury Hospice House in Hattiesburg as his condition took a turn for the worse.
After reading “The Indomitable Wiley Martin” by Will Norton, Jr., in the Meek School Magazine, adjunct journalism professor Leslie Westbrook made a phone call to Norton.
“I said, ‘I have to meet him,'” Westbrook said. “It was the story that just touched me in a way, you just can’t explain it. I told Will, ‘I get this sense of urgency that I’ve got to meet him now.’ So Will and I drove down to Hattiesburg on January 13.”
Westbrook met Martin for the first time and quickly became his friend. But one last thing Martin said to the two as they were making their way out of the room where Martin lie bedridden, inspired Westbrook even more.
“It’s hard for me to talk about it without crying,” Westbrook said. “He said, ‘I have one last wish. I want to see the Pavilion.’ He can’t even sit up.”
In his severe condition, Martin would have to be airlifted with a medical crew to Oxford. Despite the challenges of carrying him from Hattiesburg to Oxford to see the Pavilion, Westbrook said, “We are making it happen.”
With donations, members of the M-Club and friends of Martin’s have hired Angel Med Flight, which will have a medical crew and Martin’s hospice nurse on board. They will meet Martin at the Oxford airport to carry him by ambulance to the Pavilion Friday, Feb. 9, to be granted his “last wish.”
“He was told he could die on the way,” Westbrook said. “He’s skin and bones, but he won’t give up. We promised him that we’d make it happen, and he’s hung in there. Even when they told him he could die on the way up, he said, ‘If it’s God’s will, I’ll die happy.'”
The public is invited to the Pavilion Friday, Feb. 9 at 10 a.m. to celebrate Wiley Martin’s return to campus. Those interested can donate to the trip’s expenses or to the planned scholarship in Wiley Martin’s name here.
Friend of Martin’s and former football player Jamie Holder, who also helped organize the trip, said Martin will always be loved and respected by many associated with Ole Miss Athletics.
“Wiley has taught us all lessons about gratitude and determination and how blessed we have been to have been a part of something many people would give anything to experience in life … putting on the uniform of an Ole Miss Rebel,” Holder said. “Many of the former basketball and football players and coaches that know and respect Wiley’s unmatched drive to graduate college and be a part of Ole Miss athletics have contributed to making this wish of Wiley’s a reality.”
Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter, Billy Brewer among others will be at the Pavilion to celebrate Wiley Martin’s return.
Read “The Indomitable Wiley Martin” by Will Norton, Jr., below:
The Indomitable Wiley Martin
By Will Norton, Jr.
I have taught many students who have achieved greatly in media professions and who I deeply respect and admire, but perhaps I admire no student more than Wiley Martin, a young man from Sumrall who has cerebral palsy.
He was not a journalism major, but he took JOUR 391 Public Relations during a semester when I taught that class and Dr. Ed Meek taught the advanced public relations course.
It took a while for me to understand Wiley – not just his speech, but also his character. He was a person of uncommon principle and determined spirit.
Wiley did everything he could to live an active life. He was determined to be physically independent, to take initiatives and be responsible. He lifted weights and exercised diligently to walk better.
While at Ole Miss he was the manager for the basketball teams coached by Bob Weltlich, and he also worked with Billy Brewer and his Rebel football teams. Later he became a high school basketball coach until his parents asked him to move home where they could take care of him.
Wiley understood football and basketball in a way that few people know it. Invariably, he would help me understand a game better than any sports writers.
What an injustice that this young man was not able use that talent to its fullest because of a physical challenge. He spurred me to do more to motivate students, particularly those with no challenges who were not fully using their ability.
Wiley would call our home in the evenings, sometimes several times a week, and William, our preschool son, often answered the phone. After Wiley had called two or three times, William recognized his voice.
“Dad,” he would say. “It’s Wiley.”
William rode with me to pick up Wiley when he came to our house to watch the telecast when Indiana defeated Syracuse in the 1987 NCAA basketball championship and, as the game progressed, he explained Coach Bobby Knight’s strategy.
One fall during the Brewer era, Dr. Sylvester Morehead and I were chosen as faculty coaches to accompany the football team to Vanderbilt. When we arrived at the team hotel, Wiley was in the lobby, and started laughing, a big deep laugh. He was so happy that I was having this opportunity to get acquainted with his Ole Miss Rebels.
After dinner, we walked outside and, in the darkness, Wiley stumbled and fell. I turned and reached out to help him up, but he pushed my hand away and slowly, tenuously, made his way to his feet.
We walked toward the lobby of the hotel in silence. I felt ashamed. Wiley wanted to be independent, to conquer every challenge, and he did not need my help to get up.
During one period when I was on the faculty at Nebraska, we did not communicate for several months, and I wrote the Ole Miss alumni association and asked for Wiley’s whereabouts.
They contacted him, and he, in turn, called me.
“You thought I was dead,” he said and laughed, that big deep laugh.
Because I had not heard from him in a long time, I apparently had wondered if Wiley no longer were alive. That message was communicated to him, and when we talked he wanted to let me know that I should not sell him short.
Once I drove my parents from their retirement home in Oklahoma to St. Simons Island for a short vacation. On the way, we stopped in Sumrall to visit Wiley and his mother.
He was so happy that we came to visit. In fact, he became so excited that he fell while climbing the steps into the house. I was worried that he had hurt himself, but I had the good sense not to help him up, and he slowly got to his feet and climbed the steps.
A few days later he wrote me an email about our visit. He did not talk about the challenges he had living at home with his mother. Instead, he kept talking about my elderly parents and how mentally alert they were.
Wiley always seemed to be assessing his surroundings and those with whom he interacted, and he was quick to praise what he admired.
I don’t know how many years ago I learned that Wiley had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, nor do I remember any treatment. I do remember that he told me he was going to fight it, and he did so well that his doctor eventually told him that his condition had been misdiagnosed.
This good news was reversed in August 2016. I was in a hotel room in Minneapolis when I received a phone call from Jamie Holder, a former split end for the Rebels and a longtime friend of Wiley’s.
“Dr. Norton, Wiley has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and it’s in his bones.”
I was speechless. How could this be?
Wiley had been told that the diagnosis of prostate cancer was wrong, and now prostate cancer had advanced into his bones.
In my stunned silence, Jamie filled the dead space with background information, and we ended the conversation by my telling him to tell Wiley I would call and go see him.
Within a few hours Wiley and I talked on the phone, but I was not able to visit with him until last May at the Asbury Hospice House in Hattiesburg. I had learned that he no longer could even stand, much less walk. The cancer had eaten so much of his thigh bone.
I had not seen him since our visit to his home more than a decade earlier, and he did not know I would be visiting.
I told the nurse at the nurses’ station I had come to see Wiley Martin. “Let me see if he is presentable.”
She came back a few minutes later, “You can go in.”
I walked down the hall and slowly opened the door.
Wiley was sitting in a wheelchair facing the doorway. When our eyes met, his face lit in recognition. Then he smiled and started laughing, that big deep laugh.
I walked up to him and reached out to shake his hand, and he pushed it away and started trying to stand up.
“Don’t stand up, Wiley. Don’t stand up.”
But he kept trying and trying, and I do not know how he did it, but slowly, tenuously he made his way to his feet, and he reached out and put his arms around me, and hugged me and hugged me and hugged me.
Wiley stopped laughing, and we stood hugging each other in silence.
I always had known that he had understood a measure of how much he meant to me, and on that day at the Asbury Hospice House his laugh and his hug let me know how much I meant to him.
I cannot begin to explain how much that means to me.
“The Indomitable Wiley Martin” by Will Norton, Jr., Dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media as seen in the Meek School Magazine.
By Randall Haley, Editor-in-Chief of HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.HERE!