After serving 58 years as janitor at the University of Virginia, beloved “Uncle Henry” Martin was given his pension. The Board of Visitors proclaimed: “Resolved, that Henry Martin be continued in his present position as janitor, at the same salary, but without being required to perform any of the duties of the position. This action is taken by the Board in recognition of his advanced age, and of his faithful services to the University, during a period of sixty years; and the Board desires to say to him ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”
The article of March 25, 1909 went on to note that “such action on the part of the Board of Visitors is well merited by the splendid old colored man whose honesty, sobriety and industry have perhaps never been equaled. Now in his eighty-third year, ‘Uncle Henry’ may well look back over his near century with a feeling of pride and satisfaction.”
In addition to his janitor duties, “Uncle Henry” also had the duty of ringing the University bell, housed in the Rotunda. It was Martin who continually rang the bell on the morning of Oct. 27, 1895, sending out the alarm that the Rotunda was burning.
Martin died on Oct. 5, 1915. A tribute that ran in The Progress noted “He claimed to have been born at Monticello on the day that Thomas Jefferson died there. He was well over six feet in stature, of imposing appearance and stately manner. Although he could not read, he made sure that his 24 children could.”
Martin’s funeral at Oakwood Cemetery was attended by a large crowd of University faculty including the president of the University, professors, and many former students.