Martin, aged 55, was killed when he was hit by a truck while cycling in Pleasant Hill in the San Francisco Bay Area on August 2, 2018.
Prior to the accident Martin was employed as Public Information Officer at the local council in Pleasant Hill where he had settled with his family.
Last Saturday, just a few days before the fourth anniversary of his death, one of the projects he had been closely involved in came to fruition.
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Martin had been integral to the promotion of Measure K, a campaign to have a new public library built for the people of Pleasant Hill. This involved a half-cent sales tax, approved by voters in 2016, to fund the facility alongside roads, drains and other infrastructure.
On Saturday, Martin’s ambition was realised when the brand new facility opened.
At the official ceremony, the Mayor of Pleasant hill, Michael Harris, a good friend of Martin’s, paid tribute to the work he had done before his tragic death to make the dream a reality.
Mayor Harris also announced that in tribute to Martin’s role in the project, a special section dedicated to families would be named the ‘Nelis Nook’. The official opening was attended by Martin’s son, Aidan and many of his friends.
Martin’s mother Mary Nelis, the long-standing republican activist and former Sinn Féin councillor and MLA said she was incredibly proud.
“From the very beginning he pushed for the library. He sent me all the plans and kept me informed about how it was progressing. It was really a great dream of his. They have paid a great tribute to him because they are going to name one of the rooms the ‘Nelis Nook’. It will be there forever. We are so proud of him. It’s not every day you find a wee bit of Derry in California,” remarked Mrs. Nelis.
An avid reader herself, Mary, had passed this on to her own children including Martin. She said she hoped the ‘Nelis Nook’ will inspire generations of young people in Pleasant Hill and considers it a powerful legacy.
“I am so proud that a part of Derry, an ordinary fellah from Derry, is going to be remembered through a library in California. It will always be there.
“When Martin was in California I sent him all the books I enjoyed. I sent him every new book I could get my hands on that I thought he would like.
“When I retired from Stormont I set up a reading club. It ended with the pandemic but it was always great to meet up with like-minded people. Reading is such a powerful instrument of education, of learning,” said Mrs. Nelis.
While the shock of Martin’s death still affects her and her family greatly, the Nelis’ take great succour from the esteem in which Martin is held in what was his adopted home.
“Martin’s death was tragic but the people of Pleasant Hill never forgot him. I have the flag of Pleasant Hill here. They visited me and still do because he was very well thought of.
“Immediately after his death they had a memorial service of 600 people and 2,000 people turned up at the weekend to the opening of a library,” said Mary.