Feb. 11, 1976
Not many Long Islanders, if any, knew more about schools than Martin Buskin, who died suddenly on Sunday morning at the age of 45. He knew about schools the way a lot of Long Islanders do, as a father of two children and a homeowner in a district where the property taxes were steeper than most. And he knew about schools in a way that no one else did, because in 23 years at Newsday he assigned himself to work in various districts as a teacher, a principal and a school board member, and then write about those experiences in addition to the thousands of other stories he covered for the paper.
Buskin’s reporting was thorough and dispassionate, but his weekly column in the Viewpoints pages left no doubt of his commitment to educational reform. His belief in the value of racial integration and the necessity for more equitable taxation remained unshaken by years of controversy. Readers will certainly miss his authoritative voice. And it’s hard for us to imagine Newsday without him.
“Marty was fair and perceptive, and yet diligent and probing in his search for news . . . the entire educational world will be enormously diminished by the loss.”
— Ernest Boyer, Chancellor, State University of New York
A Big Man to Lean On
Newsday, Feb. 10, 1976
By Stan Isaacs
At the funeral services yesterday for Newsday education editor Martin Buskin, his friend Sy Schwartz mentioned that Marty’s father frequently called him “Buskin.” That struck a chord. It was as if Marty Buskin was always old and mature enough to be called – even by his father – by his last name.
Schwartz told about the time he and Marty went to the subway station, the Kings Highway stop on the Brighton Beach line in Brooklyn, to pick up Buskin’s father. The elder Buskin suffered from multiple sclerosis, and though he continued to work as a machinist, he frequently had to lean on his son. On this day of a big snowfall, Marty and Sy met Mr. Buskin at the subway station with a sled. They then put him on the sled and pulled him home.
“It was as if Marty always had a load,” Schwartz said. “When his father got sick, his mother took in foster children and that helped pull the family through. But Marty always had to work and help out.”
Like many of his colleagues who found their way out to Newsday from Brooklyn, Buskin knew as a youth that he wanted to be a newspaper man. His father said, “Buskin, will you ever earn a living with your typewriter?”
Schwartz said, “His father wanted Marty to earn his living at something you could touch or sell, like the dress business that a relative was in. You always wondered how much his father was kidding or not, but I think he knew that Marty couldn’t be swayed from being a journalist.”
A typewriter is now in his empty office in the left-centerfield corner of the Newsday city room. It was with him here for a long time, and he frequently expressed an affection for it that is typical of people in this business. Some time ago, when typewriters around the office had a way of being moved about, Buskin put a little sign on his that said:
This is a Marty Buskeleh typewriter
Tried and true
If you try to steal me
I’ll bite you.
The crest on the typewriter says, “Underwood Golden Touch.” It’s in the middle of his cluttered office, which overflows with bookshelves and reports and plaques attesting to the many honors he won as education editor and reporter. The reports and files spill out into the city room, taking up a lot of room in the sense that Buskin, a big, burly man, occupied a large space at this paper.
The books in his office include:
“Higher Education and the Labor Market,” “New York State Commission on the Quality, Cost and Financing of Elementary and Secondary Education,” “The I.Q. Cult” and “Soviet Pre-School Education.” One can almost hear him saying to a visitor looking in on him, “Some stuff, eh? Try writing a funny column about that some time.”
He was a serious man about his work. His column and reporting reflected that dedication. The tribute by Ernest Boyer, State University chancellor – “Marty was fair and perceptive, and yet diligent and probing in his search for news. . . the entire educational world will be enormously diminished by the loss” – was particularly apt.
He also was a funny man, funnier than any of the people who knew him only as an education presence might imagine. He was capable of taking charge of a private party and being on for 15 minutes with a sidesplitting routine. Sidesplitting is meant here in the way professional comedian Mel Brooks would be hilarious. Buskin was no professional, but a man who seized upon the community of interest of his friends to poke fun at both his own and their life and times, their aspirations and frailties. It was as if he were always reminding us that, underneath it all, we would always be the same poor young brash kids struggling to make something of ourselves.
Some of the people who saw him teach at Stony Brook report he was that way in class. LI Magazine managing editor Stan Green said: “He went beyond the usual rapport between a good teacher and the kids. He had a father relationship with them. He made them laugh. He could take a piece of copy and tell a kid, ‘This is a piece of junk; you don’t want to hand this in,’ and the kids would accept that from him because they respected him so.”
He is treasured for the time he sat in for a week as a student – all six feet, two inches, 230 pounds and 32 years of him – with a seventh-grade class at Northport Junior High School. Among his observations: “The most ego-shattering experience came in math. I knew instinctively and from experience that I was no Albert Einstein, but from the opening buzzer to the final slam of my notebook, math was an equation that emerged as: Buskin + remembered knowledge = 0.”
In addition to being Long Island’s education maven, Buskin worked as a supervising editor for some of the special writers as Newsday. He took their side in battles with higher editors, and these writers are among those who are the most glowing in praise of their friend. There’s a cartoon on the wall of his office – drawn by colleague Dick Estrin – that shows big Marty, pipe in hand, comforting a small figure crying on his shoulder, saying “Now, now, my son – even Shakespeare’s copy got penciled.”
There also is the memory of a time some 15 years ago when, at a Newsday outing to Fire Island, some of the boys were indulging in a bit of bravura on the beach, flexing muscles, exhibiting shows of strength, lifting their mates in the air. His wife, Saundra, turned to Marty and said, “Well, what are you going to do?”
He looked at her with just the proper amount of disdain that the situation called for and said, “What do you think I am, a kid?”
Buskin died at 45 Sunday. He was just a kid.