Barnett, Martha O’Brien

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Martha O’Brien Barnett BETHLEHEM Never one to back down from a challenge, Coach Martha O’Brien Barnett of Bethlehem, PA, finished her final race on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Portland, ME. Surrounded by her five loving children, Martha died in peace and comfort after a short illness, during which she maintained full control of her care and of her notable wits. Born on Aug. 2, 1925, on a small farm in Richmond, ME, Martha was one of six children of the late Marjorie Harlow O’Brien and Malcolm Brian O’Brien. She attended high school in Brunswick, ME, before earning a bachelor’s degree in zoology at the University of Maine in Orono in 1945. She then began graduate studies at New York University and worked in a laboratory that was doing early investigations of DNA. While volunteering for the USO shortly after World War II, Martha met her future husband, Charles Phelps Barnett, M.D. The couple married in Baltimore on June 8, 1949, and raised five children together: Charles Phelps Barnett Jr., Sally Barnett Magill, Jennifer Barnett Hauber, Martha Barnett, and Susan Barnett. Martha is survived by all five children as well as 13 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, her sisters, Jean O’Brien Perkins and Marcena O’Brien Pollitt, and many nieces and nephews, including Gloria Jean Atwood-Waller, whom she helped to raise. Martha was preceded in death by her husband and by her siblings, Malcolm O’Brien Jr., Edward O’Brien, Allen O’Brien, and Ellen O’Brien Atwood. Always athletic and committed to health and wellness, Martha began a career in coaching in the mid 1960’s in Pennsylvania. After managing summer swim leagues in Riverside and Easton, she moved on to the Easton YMCA, where she coached from 1966 until the 1980’s. In 1976, Martha enrolled at Kutztown University, where she earned a coaching certificate. As her children grew, she became involved in swim technique and worked with the coaches at Easton Area High School to further their swimmers’ abilities. Martha’s career eventually led her to Lehigh University, where she was the head coach of the women’s swim team from 1977 to 1980. Martha was a role model to the girls and young women she coached. In a time where men traditionally wore the whistle, she showed them that a woman could not only co-exist with men, but could succeed and excel. She studied hard, learned her profession well, and brought excellence and joy to those who encountered her coaching techniques. Many swimmers will remember her by the side of the pool, clapping her hands and singing, “Kick, kick, kick,” up and down the musical scale. Even after she retired, Martha continued to stay involved in Master’s Swimming. She was always available to help others, cared deeply for her fellow humans, was an environmentalist at her core and, above all else, knew how to be kind. Martha was a longtime member of Trinity Episcopal Church, a lifelong member of the American Association of University Women, and active on the Auxiliary of Warren General Hospital for many years. She and her husband, Charles, were avid cyclists and rode throughout the USA and Europe during their free time. Spending her summers in Maine to the end, she enjoyed gardening on the rocky hillside of her cabin on Damariscotta Lake, seeing musical productions at the Maine State Music Theatre, picking lobsters at the pier in Round Pond with family and friends. She was kayaking on the lake just two weeks before her death. A memorial service for Martha O’Brien Barnett will be held on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, at 11 a.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church, 234 Spring Garden St., Easton, PA. Visitation with family will be held at the church from 10 to 10:50 a.m. After the service, there will be a luncheon for attendees at the church’s parish hall, Conine Hall. Memorial donations may be made to the American Association of University Women at or to Habitat for Humanity at

Published in The Express Times from Sept. 17 to Sept. 18, 2017

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