Big Timber native, former Governor Judy Martz dies at 74

A month ago, Chuck Butler walked into the Judy Martz’s home like he had a hundred other times to visit with the former Montana governor and her family. 

Martz, who had been battling pancreatic cancer since November 2014, and had a “pleasant conversation about the world and life” with him before she shocked him with a final blow, Butler said.

“She said, ‘I’m dying. And you can cry all you want but I’ve already got my crying done. I’ve had a great life,’” said Butler, who was Martz’s communication’s director from 2003 to 2005. “And after visiting for about an hour and a half, I walked out of there thinking she was going to make it to Christmas. She has just been so strong in her faith, and then she passed.”

Martz, Montana’s first and only female governor, died after her lengthy battle with cancer on Monday in Butte. She was 74. 

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Martz was born in Big Timber to Joe and Dorothy Morstein. She was raised with her brother Joe and sisters Carol, Penny, Jerrie and Sherrie in Big Timber and in Butte. After graduating Butte High School in 1961, she went on to pursue her higher education at Eastern Montana College. 

Martz’s life was greatly influenced by her ranching lifestyle and rodeos. In 1963, she competed on the U.S. World Speed Skating team before qualifying for the 1964 Innsbruck Winter Olympic Games, competing in the 1,500 meters and finishing 15th. 

In 1965, Judy married Harry Martz and they became parents of Justin and Stacey Jo. 

It wasn’t until the early ’90s that Martz became involved in politics — first locally before moving her way up the ladder. 

Martz first served as the president of the Butte Chamber of Commerce and vice chairwoman of the St. James Board of Directors. 

Her life was full of firsts, from becoming the first female Olympian — with teammate Sylvia White — from Montana, to being elected the first lieutenant governor in 1996. 

In 2000, Martz defeated Democrat Mark O’Keefe in an extremely narrow margin to win the governor’s election. Martz went on to serve as the first and only female governor for the next four years.

“Many of her engagements dealt with her faith, being a small business owner with her husband, Harry, and she used to talk about, ‘I could muck with the best of them,’” Butler said. “She was proud of the fact, firstly, she was elected governor. She was the underdog in that race. But she was proud of the fact she was elected, based on her merits, not the fact she was a woman.”

After leaving the public office, Martz has remained active in the communities where she has lived, including Maternal Life International, University of Montana Western, Big Sky State Games and TASER International.

In 2014, Martz was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was treated at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Martz is survived by her husband, Harry Martz of Rocker, Mont.; married daughter Stacey (Martz) Boomer, her husband, Abe Boomer, their children Remy and Rogan of Idaho Falls, Idaho; Judy’s son, Justin, of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Martz will lie in state in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Helena from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday. A celebration of life will be held at the Butte Civic Center at 11 a.m. Saturday.

PHOTO CAPTION: Chuck Butler, left, and Judy Martz, right, at her home a month ago. Butler was a family friend and Martz’s communications director from 2003 to 2005. (Contributed photo Chuck Butler)

By STEPHEN KALB-KOENIGSFELD / Pioneer Staff Writer

 

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