Meet Martha

Martha 1985

In 1971, Bob had the good sense to marry Martha Perske. Her support and closeness began when he served as the chaplain at Kansas Neurological Institute in Topeka. After the marriage, Martha added two unforeseen surprises to the relationship.

The first surprise: In her own self-taught way, she began drawing the faces of institutionalized boys and girls that Bob worked with as a chaplain. She drew them with a pencil — just a pencil — on the kitchen table. From that beginning, Martha illustrated most of Bob’s books. She progressed until she became nationally known as an artist with a marvelous gift for showing a person’s disability and natural beauty at the same time.

Among her many accomplishments, she illustrated major reports on disabilities for Presidents Nixon and Carter, designed the 1981 International Year of Disabled Persons commemorative stamp, drew the persons with disabilities for Marlo Thomas’s Free to Be . . . A Family. She responded to a request for an autographed drawing to be presented to Her Royal Highness, Diana, Princess of Wales at a special ceremony, in Liverpool, on September 20, 1989.

The second surprise: Martha developed into becoming Bob’s closest and most exacting personal editor for everything he wrote. No article is ever submitted for publication until she has read and tough-but-lovingly used her red pencil on it.

Martha reflects in her life the uncanny strength of her father, Stafford Packard, a man with a disability. Because of his speech impediment, she always responded to “Marta.” Because of his disabled right side, he was gutsy enough to learn how to tie his own shoes with one hand. Also, while using only his left side, he learned to walk slowly, to drive a car, to garden, to take snapshots and develop them. He even progressed until he held down a job with the motor vehicle department. He could be exceedingly kind to Martha and be tough when it was needed. For example, one day he took his daughter on a slow six-block walk to buy a puppy named “Toddles” which became one of the ultimate loves of her life. At another time, he looked at his daughter’s report card and spied a “D” she received in Girls Chemistry. He circled that letter and handed it back to her without saying a word.

At another time, Martha wrote an article called, “Memories of My Father.” She wrote it for her and Bob’s five children, Lee, Dawn, Marc, Richard and Ann. Later when Perske: Pencil Portraits 1971-1990 (Abingdon Press, 1998) was published, these memories were printed as a foreword in the book. In it, she stated,

As I look back, I know I learned a lot from my father. It was nothing he really tried to teach me. It was nothing he ever said in words. I learned just by watching him. Probably, the most important thing he taught me was determination. He taught me to be on time, to be honest. I learned kindness because he was kind. He taught me the health-giving value of projects. And I learned that is important to finish what you start.

Somehow, in a strangely warming way, these positive futures of Stafford Packard have continued to be reflected in Martha. It is hoped that they might in some small way be reflected in the developing lives of those who view her drawings.

Martha, with bird!