by Cynthia Price
A model of excellence, Warner Norcross + Judd attorney Rodney D. Martin is well-suited to be in the class of 16 Over 60 honorees.
For the second year, Senior Neighbors has selected recipients for its own take on the “best of the best” lists with a twist on the popular 40 Under 40/30 Under 30 awards, which were designed to draw attention to younger achievers who had not yet achieved full recognition.
But in the over-60 age bracket there are traditionally so many who are in their prime that naming a few is difficult. “I can think of lots of people who I would honor,” Martin says, adding, “In one sense it’s a true honor, and I’m very happy to have received it. But there are so many people who deserve it at least as much as I do.”
The Senior Neighbors 16 Over 60 are people who have inspired others and impacted the community positively, in business or advocacy, and who often have another dimension to their lives worthy of note.
In the case of Rodney Martin, that surprising “other life” is as a photographer, and an amazingly good one at that. “I love to do landscape photography. Once a month my wife works on a Saturday, and I head up to Sleeping Bear Dunes to take photos. It’s a little over three hours and I like to get there before dawn – that early morning light!” he says.
“The photography form is a creative outlet and a different way of seeing. And it’s very relaxing. I just do it for myself.”
Fortunately he also shares his varied and beautiful work with others, at the website rdmegr.com/category/my-photography/
Even in Martin’s legal career, he is well-known for two things: his legal expertise and his work in diversity and inclusion.
Martin focuses on banking law; he serves as General Counsel to the Michigan Bankers Association and chairs Warner’s Financial Services Group. He also concentrates on regulatory/compliance, funds and investment services, data analytics, and cybersecurity. The last is something that has evolved from his earlier work.
“I’ve been working with some banks on cybersecurity preparedness,” he says. “We’ve developed a package, if you will, for data breach preparedness. Of course, we also advise on how to avoid needing it, but the idea is that when a breach happens you can respond very quickly. There are reports that indicate how much money you save by being prepared in advance; the longer it takes the more it costs. So this involves a lot of different specialties in our firm, and it is working well,” Martin says.
Another challenge Martin has recently taken up is co-chairing Warner’s Cannabis Law group. “The fact that I find myself doing cannabis law is something I never imagined,” he says. “That’s what’s exciting about law. It’s really what makes it stimulating, to be looking at new issues.”
Martin has been on the Best Lawyers list ever since 1995, was named a 2013 Leader in the Law by Michigan Lawyers Weekly, and is AV Preeminent peer review rated by Martindale-Hubbell.
Over and above that, Martin’s work on diversity and inclusion has resulted in receiving the Grand Rapids Bar Association President’s Award and, as part of the Rosa Parks Sculpture Committee, the 2012 William Glenn Trailblazer Award, part of the Grand Rapids Community College Giants Awards.
Working to make the Grand Rapids community, and in particular legal community, more welcoming to people of different ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds has long been Martin’s passion. Because, at age 65, he is starting to make plans for going to Of Counsel status, he has recently stepped down after 13 years of chairing Warner’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, but that is no indication that the effort will slow down.
“There’s a deep commitment in the firm that’s really wonderful. I think one of the things that distinguishes our firm is that we’ve been dogged. We realize it’s nothing that you solve overnight,” Martin says. Warner is currently working with Michigan Works! on the HireReach program which helps organizations develop evidence-based hiring practices to eradicate bias from the process.
Out in the community, Martin has contributed to so many projects around the area that it would be difficult to name them all. He has been involved with everything from the Boy Scouts of America, Gerald R. Ford Council to Inforum women community leader’s group to being the co-producer and writer of Ethics in View on West Michigan Public Television, which received the Wade F. McCree Award for the Advancement of Justice from the State Bar of Michigan.
Martin currently serves on the advisory board of BL2END, whose mission is “to foster an environment of growth and belonging where young professionals of color can connect with each other, develop professionally and contribute to the local community.”
Another passion is the Comprehensive Therapy Center, on whose board he has served for 25 years or more. “It’s a small not-for-profit that provides speech and occupational therapy to people with special needs, especially children. I can’t even remember how long I’ve been the president of the board. The work they do is marvelous. We use youth volunteers to work with the children, so every child in the program not only has a therapist but someone close to their own age. And it’s a really good experience for the volunteers too. My own children did it for ten years or so.”
Other members of the legal community in the 2019 16 Over 60 class include Carl Ver Beek, Of Counsel at Varnum, and Judge Sara Smolenski of the 63rd District Court.
In addition, the list includes Faye Richardson-Green, who ran the Institute for Healing Racism that Martin attended in 1998. “I’m very pleased to be in this group with her. She’s remarkable,” he says.
Though the awards ceremony is not until November, Martin says that Senior Neighbors recently held a reception so the recipients could meet each other. (Senior Neighbors “promote[s] the well-being of older adults with services that promote self-sufficiency, especially to those with physical, social or economic needs living in Kent County,” including running five senior centers.) He found his fellow recipients impressive.
A native of Flint, Martin attended University of Michigan Law School, during which he clerked for Warner Norcross + Judd, after graduating from Kalamazoo College. He has been with the firm since 1980.
Martin and his wife, who is a librarian, have a son and a daughter, as well as one grandchild and one on the way this month.
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