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Legacy of J. Landis Martin lives on across Northwestern through the devotion he demonstrated in his lifetime

Alumnus, former board chair and longtime benefactor dies at 77

J. Landis “Lanny” Martin ’68, ’73 J.D. (’02, ’07, ’08 P), Northwestern alumnus, life trustee, former chair of the Board of Trustees and one of the University’s most generous benefactors, died today, Sept. 1, 2023. He was 77 years old.

“I’m truly saddened to hear of Lanny’s passing. He has given so much to Northwestern, through his leadership, his guidance and his unwavering support for his alma mater,” said President Michael Schill. “Lanny’s stewardship of the University during his more than two decades on the Board, including his service as Board Chair, helped propel our institution to new heights, across almost every measure. I am grateful to have known Lanny, to have learned from him and for everything he did to make Northwestern the university it is today.”

A double alumnus, Martin earned his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1968 and his J.D. from Northwestern Law in 1973. While an undergraduate at Northwestern, he participated in Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, the Interfraternity Council and intramural sports. As a law student, Martin served as articles editor of the Northwestern University Law Review. 

Martin joined the Board of Trustees in 1999. He chaired ad hoc and standing committees, including the academic affairs committee from 2010 to 2015, and served as a vice chair of the Board from 2015 until becoming chair in September 2017, serving until August 2022. Martin was elected a life trustee in 2022, and he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters that year. In 1996, he was the recipient of the Northwestern Alumni Association’s Alumni Merit Award.

“Lanny’s deliberate leadership, ability to foster partnerships and remarkable dedication to the success of the University made him a consummate chair of our Board during a critical period,” said Peter Barris, chair of the Board of Trustees. “Through 24 years of trusteeship, generous philanthropy and tireless advocacy, Lanny, along with his wife, Sharon, was a Northwestern champion of the highest order, and he will be deeply missed. I am saddened to lose Lanny as a colleague and friend, and our hearts go out to Sharon, their children and grandchildren, who will always be a part of the Northwestern family.”

Martin’s commitment to Northwestern was important to the success of the institution. During his tenure as chair, the Board oversaw a period of tremendous University-wide growth. Under his leadership, the Board also provided close partnership to President Morton Schapiro and his administration that resulted in a return to balanced financial operations after a period of significant investments and financial challenges; supported the administration through the COVID-19 pandemic, including the formation of a special committee of the Board, which Martin chaired; and selected the University’s 17th President.

“Lanny was an exceptional lawyer, business leader and true Renaissance man who was devoted to Sharon and their family,” said William Osborn, a Northwestern life trustee and former Chair of the Board of Trustees. “He never shied away from challenges and led Northwestern as our Chair during a critical time. He was warm and engaging, genuine, highly intelligent and was incredibly successful in everything he did.”

With his wife, Sharon, Lanny Martin was among Northwestern’s most generous and loyal benefactors, with their overall giving to Northwestern totaling nearly $45 million. Their longtime philanthropic support has benefited areas across the University, including Northwestern Pritzker Law, Northwestern Athletics and Recreation, the Bienen School of Music, undergraduate scholarship funds and The Block Museum of Art.

Over the years, the pair created the J. Landis Martin Professorship of Law and Business; provided unrestricted funding for the Law School, allowing the implementation of innovative strategies to improve legal education and enhance the student experience; helped establish Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium, the University’s soccer and lacrosse field; and made several generous gifts to the Law School Fund and Bienen School of Music Fund.

The Martins served as co-chairs of We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern and Northwestern Pritzker Law’s “Motion to Lead” Campaign. Martin was also a life member of the Northwestern Law Board. The Law School formally dedicated the south atrium of the Arthur Rubloff Building as the Lanny and Sharon Martin Atrium in 2018, in recognition of the Martins’ extraordinary philanthropy and volunteer leadership. The Board of Trustees established the Lanny Martin President’s Endowed Discretionary Fund to honor Lanny in 2022 when he concluded his term as chair. 

Most recently, the Martins made a $3 million gift to endow faculty positions at the Law School, establishing the Law Community Professorship Fund along with a matching gift challenge that created two more professorships.

“Lanny’s leadership and generosity have made a transformational impact on our Law School, the University and society,” said Hari Osofsky, Dean of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. “We are tremendously grateful for his incredible contributions. Lanny’s warmth, wise counsel and supportiveness have made such a difference for me and so many others in our community. We send our deepest condolences to Sharon and their children and grandchildren.”

When Martin was in high school and considering where to attend college, his family could not afford Northwestern. Nevertheless, he was encouraged by his high school counselor Bob Hamblet to apply to Northwestern, where he was able to pay for college because of a generous financial aid package that included campus jobs, predominantly in food service. Martin’s passion for ensuring others would have the opportunity he did led him to establish scholarships for matriculants to Northwestern from his high school and support other scholarship funds at Northwestern and elsewhere.

“Scholarships resonate with me because they’re providing young people with opportunities,” Martin said in a 2018 interview with the Northwestern University Leadership Circle newsletter. “By supporting scholarships, you’re directly enabling someone else to have experiences like the ones many of us had as Northwestern students and graduates.”

Martin was chairman and managing director of Platte River Equity in Denver. He founded the firm in 2006 after retiring as chairman and CEO of Titanium Metals Corporation, one of the world’s largest producers of titanium metal. He began his career at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, where he served on the executive and firm committees. He was also a founding director and chairman of the board of Crown Castle International Corp., the largest owner and operator of U.S. wireless communication sites.

Together, Lanny and Sharon demonstrated deep civic leadership and philanthropy across the nation, especially in the arts and in the Denver region. Martin had a deep appreciation for art as a connoisseur, collector and supporter, and served as chairman of the Denver Art Museum and its foundation and of the Clyfford Still Museum Foundation. A music lover, too, Martin served as chairman of Central City Opera and chairman and president of the Houston Grand Opera.

Upon his induction into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame in 2012, Martin said his proudest professional accomplishment was founding Platte River Equity, a leading private equity firm investing in small and mid-cap companies, which takes its name from the Platte River that ran through Grand Island, Nebraska, where Martin was born Nov. 5, 1945.

He is survived by his wife, Sharon, and three children — Mary Lester; Sarah Stettner, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern in 2002 and a J.D. from Northwestern Law in 2007; and Emily Martin Jones, who earned her M.D. from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in 2008 and completed her residency there in 2011 — as well as nine grandchildren.