by Tim Gilmartin
Richard T. Gilmartin was the founder and first president of the Montauk Historical Society. He was born and raised in East Hampton, attended the schools there, and graduated from Fordham University in 1925 with a B.A. Degree. He then became Secretary of the Pearson Construction Co. in Montauk. Pearson did much of the building for Carl Fisher. Gilmartin also started an insurance agency. In 1927, he married Winifred O’Brien, and they raised 5 children.
Mr. Gilmartin was very keen to serve the public. He was elected East Hampton Town Clerk all through the 1930s; was Suffolk County Commissioner of Public Welfare throughout the 1940s; was East Hampton Town Supervisor for one term in the 1950s. He also became East Hampton Town Historian in 1957, and served in that capacity until his death in 1964.
In 1944, an automobile accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. Through sheer determination and years of therapy, he was able to walk with the aid of crutches; could drive a car, and use an electric typewriter. He became a steadfast advocate for the physically handicapped. He served on President Eisenhower’s and President Kennedy’s Committee for the Physically Handicapped. Through the committee’s efforts, we now have sloping curbs at intersections, ramps, automatic doors, and handicapped parking spaces. In 1955, Gilmartin founded Skills Unlimited. Its purpose was to train WW II and Korean War Handicapped vets to learn a new trade, and again become productive members of society. Skills has since morphed into training socially and mentally handicapped people.
Always very interested in local history, in 1960 he founded and was first president of the MHS. We local boys formed the “Explorer’s Club” and Gilmartin enjoyed driving us all over East Hampton Town and explaining local history and meeting local characters.
Gilmartin belonged to many fraternal and professional organizations including: Commissioner of the Montauk Fire Department, the Chamber of Commerce, the Lions Club, the Elks Club, and many more. He accomplished so much as a handicapped person; any other person would be hard pressed to keep up with him. Montauk, and East Hampton Town, owe him a debt of gratitude.