Pat Martinsen loved life—and colorful zinnias, a flower that symbolizes endurance, friendship and remembrance. Her beloved husband, Bob, remembers her here.
Married for over half a century, Pat and Bob Martinsen navigated life together until her final journey, here at the Center for Comfort Care & Healing. Both life-long travelers, they pioneered business growth and social causes together. And in Pat’s final few months, they steered their own path through the global COVID-19 pandemic together too.
The couple first met in the 1960s when Pat was a flight attendant and Bob was a junior executive at Citi Bank. Getting to know each other socially through common friends, Bob remembers with a laugh that at first, “She had no interest… but we finally started to date in early 1966, in the winter.” After taking her to his hometown in New Jersey for the “greatest pizza place in the world,” the new couple spent more time together, especially when Bob was volunteering for the New York City Jaycees where he later became President and Chairman of the Board. It was at one of these charity events that Bob formally announced his proposal to Pat a few months later.
That fall, the couple had a modest, small wedding, and were married by a judge who was a friend of Bob’s from the Jaycees. The two invited a friend of his from high school, and a married couple who were friends with Pat. “Pat didn’t want a wedding. She’s not a showy lady,” Bob says.
Another reason to keep the wedding low-key was that, at the time, it could have cost Pat her job. “Remember, this is back in 1966,” Bob explains. “You could not remain with the airline if you got married. There were no male flight attendants, only female… so we didn’t tell the airline.”
After a romantic and whirlwind honeymoon six months later in Spain and Majorca, Pat finally told the airline she had gotten married. And, as they expected, she lost her job. “The [airline’s] purpose of that was simple. ‘Let’s have an attractive woman waiting on men who are mostly businesspeople,’” Bob says.
A friend of Bob’s knew people in the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and offered up the idea that they would take on the case. “Pat said, ‘Sure, yeah I want to do that,’” Bob recalls. “The ACLU went to American Airlines and said, ’You can’t do this. It is unconstitutional,’ and they buckled. So, because of Pat taking the case to the ACLU, all women that were flying for American Airlines could not only then get married and not be discharged, but in addition, the women who were discharged were now allowed to come back.” With this precedent, all other airlines followed suit and changed their regulations.
Bob continued to move up the career ladder with Citicorp and over the next couple of decades, with that success, the couple moved out of the city and onto a 5-acre farm in Ridgefield in the early 1980s. They also bought a condo in Del Ray Beach, Florida where they spent winters after his retirement in 1995.
His job took him around the world for at least half of the year and when Pat wasn’t taking care of the property, or her real estate investments in Fairfield County, she went along with him. “The Bank allowed her to travel with me, so we traveled together in over 50 countries.”
Pat developed a love for South Asian antiques, sometimes filling up the corporate jet’s cargo cabin with items that would grace their home in Connecticut. Their home also gave Pat the chance to cultivate a love for gardening. “She loved zinnias,” Bob says, recalling how he would bring her other favorite flowers like Stargazer lilies.”
They also enjoyed the company of three sets of Siamese cats over the years. “The last pet, who was eighteen, died the same day as Pat.” Named after a Thailand city, Chiange Mai stopped eating during Pat’s final two days in hospice care in late July. “I swear, this cat knew it,” Bob says.
Originally diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, it was eventually discovered that Pat actually had Sjogren’s disease which has similar symptoms. For Pat, her difficulties started in her feet, causing repeated falls and broken hips. She then began to pass out several times a year, always coming to a few minutes later after Bob had called 911. But these episodes got longer and would zap her strength for days. The disease had by then made it hard to swallow food. In December of 2019, thinking she had aspiration pneumonia, Bob brought her to their physician in New York who ordered a series of tests. Discovering she had irreversible brain deterioration, and now needing a feed tube, Bob asked, “how long does she have?” He was told it could be anywhere between six months and two years, and that she needed nursing home care.
After looking at six nursing homes, Bob could not bring himself to move Pat to any of the places he looked at and, at a loss, turned to a pastor in his community. The pastor, said, “Have you tried hospice?” and took Bob over to Regional Hospice that afternoon.
After the tour, Bob asked if there were any possibilities of openings and after a couple of days, he got the call that Pat could move in immediately. “She came directly from the hospital right to hospice,” Bob recalls. He remembers telling her, “We will take it from day to day. And try to keep you as comfortable as possible and I will be here as often as I can. We will have some friends come and see you.” For the next few months, Bob visited with flowers and the New York Post which she loved.
When it became available, Bob says, “The folks in there were kind enough to move her to the room down on the end, which has more windows. I used to bring her flowers and I did manage to get a bunch of zinnias out of the garden before she passed.”
Sadly, due to the pandemic, Bob and Pat experienced their last moments together by using social distancing measures, like thousands of people around the world. While Regional Hospice took the safest precautions to protect residents and staff from infection, the staff marveled at Bob’s dedication and love for his wife. Every day, standing outside her patio, Bob held up a sign he’d made using her bright red lipstick so that she could read “PAT I LOVE YOU” from her devoted, lifelong partner.