Former Tribal Chief Phillip Martin died Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010, at a Jackson hospital due to complications from a stroke. He was 83.
Former Tribal Chief Phillip Martin died Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010, at a Jackson hospital due to complications from a stroke. He was 83.
Chief Phillip Martin, the former Choctaw Indian Tribal leader who served in public office for 48 years and helped to lead his people from abject poverty to unprecedented growth and prosperity with economic development initiatives that included the construction of two casinos in Neshoba County, died on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010, at a Jackson hospital. He was 83.

Martin died at St. Dominic's hospital after suffering a stroke on Monday. His death was confirmed by Louis H. Watson, an attorney with the Wise Carter Child & Caraway law firm in Jackson, which represents the family.

Services will be Monday, Feb. 8, 2010, at 11 a.m. from Holy Rosary Catholic Church, off Mississippi 19 south.

Visitation will be Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon until 5 p.m. in McClain-Hays Funeral Home.

Burial will be in the church cemetery.

Martin is one of three chiefs to lead the Choctaw Indians in modern times since the legendary Greenwood Leflore, the last chief before the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek when most Choctaws were driven to Oklahoma.

Phillip Martin was first elected chief in 1979.

Martin was married to former Indian Princess Bonnie Kate Bell, who retired after 52 years with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

After he left public office, Martin spent time traveling with his wife and writing a book, "Chief: The Autobiography of Phillip Martin," which was released last year. He could be seen around Philadelphia at the bank, the dry cleaners or Wal-Mart and was apt to give a friendly wave to a friend or stop for an extended conversation.

Martin was born March 13, 1926, at the Indian hospital in Philadelphia.

He began his career in Tribal leadership in 1957, when he returned home after serving in the U. S. Air Force for a decade. He worked to overcome the poor living conditions and lack of opportunity that existed on his reservation through an emphasis on self-reliance and ingenuity. In 1979, he was elected to the Tribe's top post where he remained for 28 years.

"I felt compelled to recount the major events of my life because I believe I owe it to the Choctaw people, especially the young and those yet to be born," said Martin.

"I want them to know how difficult life was before we as a people began to prosper again in the mid-20th century, following a 150-year period of suppression and tribal dissolution after the Trail of Tears in 1830. I want them to realize that earning a living was not always easy for their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. The Mississippi Choctaws' valuable legacy is to be cherished, and is one worthy of being preserved, protected, and told."

He is survived by his wife Bonnie, daughters Deborah Lewis and Patricia Gibson, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.