Written by Caitlin King and Kristina Glockler
After seven years of searching for the perfect location to open an addiction treatment center, Father Joseph Martin and Mae Ashley Abraham decided to pursue the former land of Sen. Millard Tydings on the Chesapeake Bay. On this day 38 years ago, our two co-founders opened the doors of Ashley to help those struggling with substance use disorder receive treatment. As the years passed, Ashley continued to evolve through Father Martin and Mae’s work with the desire to treat every patient with love and compassion.
Although we are saddened by the realization that Father Martin and Mae are no longer with us, we continue to keep their legacy alive through dedication to the mission and preserving stories from those who knew them best.
One of those who knew Father Martin and Mae best is Dave Nassef, our president and CEO. Before Nassef knew of Father Martin’s Ashley, he had heard and listened to some of Father Martin’s famous Chalk Talks, formerly known as Blackboard Talks.
At this time, Nassef hadn’t known the impact Father Martin had made in the field of addiction treatment. While Father Martin was one of the greatest teachers on the disease of alcoholism, Nassef hadn’t had much professional knowledge on this topic but had experienced its impact through his father’s alcoholism.
Sometime after hearing Father Martin’s lecture in Connecticut, Nassef received an invitation to the Conference on Alcoholism and Addiction in Moscow, Russia, sponsored by the United Nations in 1989. Lou Bantle, a member of Ashley’s board at the time, called Nassef’s supervisor at Pitney Bowes. Bantle requested someone from Pitney Bowes attend the conference because their company created the first employee assistance program in a manufacturing environment. Nassef had been sober for six years when he was sent to Moscow, though his employer did not know.
As a member of the audience at the conference, Nassef recognized Father Martin quickly. In fact, everyone in the room knew who Father Martin was because Chalk Talk was at its peak of notoriety in the world. When Bantle invited Father Martin to speak on stage, he declined and emphasized that he had come to listen and learn. He understood that a teacher must also know when to learn from others. This humility deeply impressed Nassef. He was even more impressed that Father Martin, while in Russia, visited young people with addiction in forced labor camps. Father Martin truly knew where he was needed and wasn’t intimidated by his surroundings. Nassef says of Father Martin’s actions: “This is Father Martin – talk about humility!” Little did Nassef know that getting to know Father Martin at this conference would build the foundation for a friendship that would last a lifetime.
Like the true teacher he was, Father Martin was always sending a message, says Nassef. Every joke and every story contained deeper meaning, with the intent to help, strengthen or heal. Even during the last few weeks of his life, when Nassef paid his final visit to him, Father Martin intuitively knew that Nassef needed his support and talked about his troubles.
Sensing other people’s needs and helping them on their recovery journey was part of the miracle that he wanted to pass on — the miracle of his sobriety. His and Mae’s dream and mission were to do so by seeing people with addictions as normal human beings who should be treated with the utmost respect, dignity and love.
“Father Martin absolutely loved the alcoholic, and he sincerely believed in and relied on the power of love,” says Nassef. Nassef recalls Father Martin telling patients that he and everyone around them genuinely love them, and that their task was to find the strength to love themselves.
Through his recovery journey, Father Martin had a profound understanding of addiction and people struggling with it. “I have never heard anybody, (but Father Martin), describe so simply and succinctly what addiction is, and how it affects everyone and everything around the addict,” says Nassef. This deep understanding that Father Martin and also Mae had, along with their approach to love and treating the addict with respect and dignity, makes the Ashley legacy so unique.
There is one thing that Father Martin and Nassef, and everyone here at Ashley has in common: The patients are our fuel! They are what drives us and what we work for every day.
A note from the authors:
Our special thanks go to Dave Nassef for taking the time to talk to us about Father Martin in such detail and allowing us to hear from a very personal point of view about their relationship. We are excited to share more from our interview with Dave on social media in the coming months. As we celebrate Founders’ Day, we urge others to reminisce on stories of Father Martin and Mae to keep their own memories alive.
About the authors:
Caitlin King is Ashley Addiction Treatment’s digital marketing associate and Kristina Glockler is the communications assistant.