Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Uncle Marty

Martin Peter Ambrose was the youngest of Edwin and Frida's three children, and named after his grandfather, my great-grandfather, Martinius Ambrosiussen. He was born 11 years after my father Ed, and nine years after my aunt Marion. Marty was a Halloween baby, born on October 31, 1940. Sadly, I never knew that until after his death (Halloween is my favorite holiday). Even though he was the youngest sibling, he was not the last one to leave us. He died five days before my mother. His life ended much too early, in June 2010, at age 69, of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS.

Edwin, Frida, Marion, and little Marty Ambrose. 
Mother Frida and baby Marty.
Eddie, Martinius, Frida, and big boy Marty. 
Marty was a local celebrity in Houston, Texas, also known as the "Dean of Houston Traffic Reporters," where his soothing, warm, and deep voice entertained thousands of people for over three decades. As an adult, wherever I lived, if I met someone from Houston, they were sure to know Marty. It was fun to have a celebrity uncle!

My uncle also liked the theater arts, first performing in high school and in local theaters throughout his adult life. He also was an accomplished bass singer, lending his voice voice to such groups as the Houston Symphony Chorus and the Sons of Orpheus.

Marty visited us a few times in Darien, one of the highlights being when he wrote a short play for us to perform together as a family. The Lone Ranger was a popular television show at the time, so this skit he called The Lone Stranger. I remember playing Griselda, a young girl with a toothy New England accent (not intentional by the way). It was a fun experience, which we relived more than 20 years later when we went to a family reunion at a dude ranch in Michigan. Again, Marty wrote another play for us, the sequel, Son of Lone Stranger. Thanks to Marty, my family has these moments on tape so we can listen to them whenever we want and play them for our families.

Marty began working on the radio in the mid-1970s, when, as a salesman for AAA, he volunteered to sit in for the resident traffic reporter on occasion. His emergency broadcasts after the 1977 crash of an ammonia tanker – where six people were killed and 78 seriously injured – launched his career. He co-founded the area's first network traffic reporting service using spotters, CB radios, and binoculars. He provided timely traffic reporting for up to 21 stations at one point. Marty was inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame shortly after his death.

After Marty died, much was written and said about him in the news. My aunt, Mary Kramer Ambrose, was kind enough to send me a plethora of DVDs to watch and share with my brothers. All of them, touching tributes to a wonderful man.

John G. Winder of The Cypress Times wrote: You knew his name, and his smooth soothing voice. Marty Ambrose was the dean of Houston traffic reporters.  Over the years his calm voice shepherded millions of Houston drivers safely through the calamity of congestion that is Houston’s rush hour traffic.  What you may not know about Marty is that his voice and his demeanor matched in real life, too. He was a gentleman and a gentle man who dedicated his time, talent and gifts to numerous Houston charities and causes both on and off-the-air. 

As you can tell by these photos, it's true, Marty was always a gentleman. After all, who looks sweeter in this photo, Marty in the sailor suit or the tough looking girl next to him? Is that a black eye she's sporting?

Another article by Fayza A. Elmostehi of Culturemap Houston, was especially touching: We certainly hope that wherever Ambrose is now, the highways are conveniently congested and the drivers are beyond irate. After all, traffic was what he loved, and for his sake, we hope there's a whole lot of it.

By the time my father died from frontal-temporal lobe dementia, FTLD, Marty had already been suffering from symptoms from ALS, but didn't know what was wrong with him. Some of the symptoms are actually the same. He was understandably worried that he too had FTLD. Marty sent a recording to my dad a few weeks before his death, which I played for him in the nursing home. Marty's soothing, familiar voice spoke to my dad, reminiscing about personal memories he had of his older brother, clips of the Marine Corps hymn, the fight song for the Univ. of Michigan, and Norwegian classical music.

Here's an excerpt of Marty's recording to my father Ed:

Reflections On My Older Brother

When I was born you were already 12 years old. And by the time I was four you were in high school. My brother Ed – handsome and smart – 135 IQ somebody wrote. By the time I was eight, you were already out of high school and in the Marines, stationed at Cherry Point, NC, and every time you came home, how smart you looked in your dress blues.

You were always a role model for me. You used to send things to me from all over the world. You brought me bongo drums, rattan stools from India, and a live alligator from Florida. You even brought me back a piece of the goal post from the Rose Bowl when Michigan won. And, on my 16th birthday, I stood outside and watched you drive up the street in a 1948 Nash, which you presented to me, warts and all.

After I graduated from Luther in 1962 you invited me to come and stay with you in Darien for the summer. And what a summer it was! I went into the city with you every morning on the 7:25 and you introduced me to your friends at advertising agencies and other companies. I had a good time sailing, clam digging, and exploring the canyons of the city. A few years later, in 1967, I stopped in and we wrote and produced “The Lone Stranger”.

The next time we saw each other was in 1979 at our one and only family reunion in Brevort, Michigan, at the Double H Ranch. We all cavorted for a whole week with campfires on the beach and saluting Pop on his 80th. How fortunate that we were all able to congregate for this wonderful week – when just a few years later we lost Pop and then Mom, and then Stacy. Who knew that this would be our last and only chance to be together? And do you remember when we decided to do a rewrite of “The Lone Stranger”? I went up to my room to write it, and an hour or so later I gave everybody their scripts and then we presented it at the talent show. Well, needless to say, we won first prize in the Family Talent Contest.

Thank you for being such a great big brother. You were always there for me. I knew I could always call you if I needed a helping hand or a word of support. You never tried to run my life but you were always there if I ever needed you. Fortunately we all had those Norse genes in our bodies that gave us whatever it took to get by in the world and I’m still proud of you big brother, and I appreciate you, and for the family you made, the kids you raised, and the life you led. And I love you as only a little brother can. And thanks for a lifetime of sweet memories.

Your little brother Martin

Happy birthday Uncle Marty.


  1. Amazing, heart felt story! My favorite so far. Such a close family!

  2. I met Marty the same time I met my husband. Marty was in our wedding that August. An amazing friend, and is so missed by all of us. His smooth voice on the radio cannot be duplicated. We miss him, and will always love him.

  3. I so thoroughly enjoyed seeing the article and pictures of Marty. I had the pleasure of working with him for many years and he truly was a gentleman with which to work. He made it seem all so effortless while the controlled chaos of ever-changing traffic conditions were happening around him. I treasure the time I got to learn from and work with Marty.

  4. Hi,
    I know this is really weird question, but is Edwin Ambrose, Martins dad originally from Horten Norway? I that case, I think we are related.

    1. edwins sister was my grandmother living in horten
      paal stensaas

  5. Hi Nora
    Yes, my grandfather, Edwin Ambrose, and his father, Martin, were both from Horten! How are we related? I am on with the public tree Ambrose/Ericke. Do you live in Norway? I'd love to email with you to collaborate on our family tree. My father did most of his research on his maternal side, so if you look at my tree, you can see how far I've gotten and how far I still have to go!

  6. Yes, I live in Norway, but at the moment I actually live in Austin as an exchange student. My grandmother is Edwin Amborse´s cousin. So Martinius Ambrosiusen is the brother to my great grand mother I think?
    I would love to email you more too, because I am curious about my family in America. I will try to get on and build a tree.

    1. Hi Nora, are you still in Austin? I'd love to get in touch with you. Please send me your email when you get a chance.

  7. Didn't know that he had passed. Used to listen to him on Majic 102 KMJQ FM radio back in 1979.