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Russell Eric Martenson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 25, 1938, and grew up in Hanson, MA. Always excelling in academics, he was also a gifted athlete, starring as a baseball pitcher in high school and playing American Legion Baseball. Football was his sport of choice during his undergraduate years at Johns Hopkins University from which he graduated in 1960. He then attended Harvard University where he earned a PhD in Biochemistry in 1965. From 1965-1967 he was a postdoctoral fellow at a Medical Research Council unit in Carshalton, Surrey, England, where he lived with his former wife, Joan Ross, and their three children. From 1967 until his retirement in 1999, Russ was a noted research biochemist at the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. He specialized in proteins of the brain. Enjoying an international reputation, Russ published over 80 scientific research papers, served as chief editor of the Journal of Neurochemistry for several years, and wrote an important book on the subject of his research, “Myelin - Biology and Chemistry.” He retired from NIH in December 1999, after which he pursued his many eclectic interests with academic intensity.
In 1978 Russ married his beloved Janice (nee Simonson). They spent 1979 living in Lausanne, Switzerland, while Russ was on sabbatical at the Cantonal University of Vaudois, after which they settled in Bethesda. This was the beginning of four decades of world travel and exploration together. Russ and Jan rode dories through the Grand Canyon, spent two months in Australia and New Zealand, made numerous trips to Europe, and travelled extensively throughout the United States, particularly in the Southwest.
Even before retirement Russ trained for and began a second career instructing exercise classes at his local YMCA and other venues in the Washington DC area, culminating at the Taos Spa and Tennis Club in 2008. In the mid-90s he began training for race-walking marathons with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team in Training. He completed his first race, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, in 1997, eventually earned certification as a race-walking trainer for Team in Training, and over the next 17 years completed 51 marathons in 9 states and the District of Columbia. He completed his last Marine Corps Marathon in 2014 at the age of 76.
In 2007 Russ and Jan relocated to Ranchos de Taos, NM, where they pursued mutual interests in geology, native flora, and western history. While training for marathons Russ would walk up and down County Road 110 where many residents came to know him as the Happy Walker because he always had a wave and a smile for every passer-by. Although he loved his cats best, he was every dog’s friend and was often accompanied by neighbor dogs on his long walks. In 2015 he trained to be a docent and a petroglyph recorder with the Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project based in Lyden, NM. Over the next five years he led tours several times a month from March through November, regaling visitors with the geological and cultural history of this unique site.
Russ is survived by his wife of 45 years, Janice Martenson of Taos, NM; brother Allan Martenson (Eleanor) of East Hampton CT; children Bryan Martenson (Olga) of Alberton, MT, and Diana Marshall (Doug) of Frederick, MD; grandchildren Nathan Andrew French of Frederick, MD; Sarah Pearl French of Boonesboro, MD; Matthew Phillip French of Lexington, MA; and great-granddaughter Jade Pearl Manipady of Boonesboro, MD. He was predeceased by his parents, Theodore and Anna Martenson; his sister Phyllis Johnson; and his son Roger Martenson.
Donations in Russell’s memory may be made to the Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project (www.mesaprietapetroglyphs.org, PO Box 407, Velarde, NM, 87582).
A private Celebration of his life will be held this summer.
The family of Russell Eric Martenson has entrusted the care of their loved one to DeVargas Funeral Home of Taos. 866-657-4019 www.devargastaos.com
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