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Leslie John (Les) Martyn MBE OSJ – Family, Sports, and Business

Leslie John Martyn

January 26, 1932 – August 31, 2021

The famous sportsman and businessman Les Martyn died on August 31 after a long illness in the Cabrini hospital. He was a beloved husband of Denise (deceased) and the father / father-in-law of Stuart & Carolyn, Paul & Angela and Graeme & Angela. Les was a grandfather to Emily, Catherine, Georgina, Matthew, Jack, and Grace. Due to restrictions, attendance at the September 9 funeral was restricted to family members. The eulogy was given by Les’ sons Stuart, Paul and Graeme and this obituary is based on their comments.

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Les Martyn was the fifth of Charlie and Clara Martyn’s nine children and grew up in a rented single-family home in Kensington. It was a time of economic and social hardship, and from the age of eight, Les sold newspapers mornings and evenings to supplement the family income. While times may have been tough, the family shared a loving home that provided a safe, humorous, and caring environment.

Lifelong friendships have been made with many local boys, a tribute to Les’ interest in people and his love of storytelling. He excelled in school and on the sports field. Les was Dux his senior year in elementary school and won a scholarship to Christian Brothers’ College in North Melbourne, where he stood out again.

Les Martyn (left) with his parents and six of his siblings.

Despite not being the most talented footballer, Les captained the senior team at CBC and then the local YCW to several prime ministers. While some of his teammates, including his older brother Bryan, played at North Melbourne VFL, Les was the teams’ natural leader and mentor. (In fact, Bryan won the 1957 best and fairest club in the club with North Melbourne.)

During these formative years, Les developed a number of qualities that he would display for the rest of his life: respect for others, fairness and patience. He understood well the importance of families and the need to help others. He was a staunch advocate of thorough preparation, whatever the task, and he knew that hard work would be worth it.

Les Martyn takes part in a state championship.

Les began working for the Commonwealth Bank at the age of 16 and graduated with a degree in accounting during that time. In 1956 he met Denise Mullins, the sister of his work colleague Tom, and then went to court. Les and Denise’s romance culminated in their marriage at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in February 1960.

By now, Les had left the bank and began a short but very successful career at Cool Drive Consolidated Industries – an auto accessories company. This enabled him to build the family’s “dream home” on Weinstrasse in Heidelberg. By 1966 the family had grown to five with Stuart, Paul and Graeme. Denise’s mother was also accommodated and a new home was bought next door for Les’ parents Charlie and Clara. Les valued the importance of the family and was always considerate of their needs.

Denise and Les, around 1959.

In 1956, when Melbourne was hosting the Olympic Games, Les participated as an official. Little did he know that he would visit so many more! Les had an older brother who was interested in wrestling, and during his junior football years, Les took him to the gym to lift some weights. This sparked his interest in weightlifting and Les won several national titles before moving to coaching. In the summer of 1970, several of Australia’s top weightlifters were selected to compete in an international competition, but the funds were lacking to cover their expenses. Les decided to hold a fundraiser in the backyard on Vine Street, and although several hundred were in it, a little more money was needed. Les, always on his feet, had the solution: raffle for the athletes! Moments later, a “roulette wheel” was set up. This saw the slightly drunk weightlifters, some of whom were luscious proportions, hung upside down on Hills’ rotating clothesline and the audience “betting” on the outcome as they spun around. Although the Hills elevator was never quite the same, the event was a huge success and enough money was raised.

Denise and Les in the Western Port Hotel Public Bar on the occasion of the hotel’s 100th anniversary.

Les was general manager of Cool Drive Consolidated Industries when it was acquired by Repco. It was time to take a new direction. In 1971 he bought the Royal Hotel in Hastings, changed his name to Westernport and spent 12 months doing a wholesale remodel. The improvements included a 250-seat restaurant (called “Martys”) with a dedicated kitchen and drive-through bottle department. Over the next few years, Les continued to expand in this area, first through the acquisition of the Chelsea Hotel and then the Dromana Hotel; both have been renovated, particularly the Chelsea Hotel, and suitable restaurants have been installed (again under the name “Martys”). Les still had an unfulfilled ambition: to found an upscale seafood restaurant in Hastings. This led to his stake in Hastings Marina, which was still under construction.

A lasting contribution to the Hastings community has been Les’s involvement in the development of the Hastings Leisure Center (now renamed the Community Hub). Les was president of the committee and believed that the leisure center would help meet the athletic needs of those in the community who were sometimes overlooked: children, women and the elderly.

Les (right) as Malcolm Fraser presents Dawn Fraser with a check for the Commonwealth Games.

In the late 1980s the economy became quite unstable and “the recession we had to go through” created an air of uncertainty. This led Les to reduce his fortune, starting with the Dromana Hotel in 1990 and ending with the sale of the Westernport Hotel in 1995.

For about 20 years, Les and Denise lived in the Tower House, a Frankston landmark with gardens inspired by Edna Walling. This was sold and the couple moved to Safety Beach, where Les ran the golf pro shop at the country club as well as a gym in town. Denise died in 2009, and Les moved to a Frankston townhouse in 2014. Five years later he moved to an elderly care facility in Mornington.

In addition to Les’ business success as a hotelier, he was also very involved in sports management. From his experience as a weightlifting coach, Les directed them, starting with the British Empire Games team in 1966. As director of the Australian Weightlifting Federation (1971-1983) he directed what has been referred to as the “golden years” of the sport.

Les presents Nick Ciancio with the gold medal at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch. Nick was coached by Les.

Les has been an active participant and advocate of the sport, taking on leadership roles in various bodies and associations such as the Confederation of Australian Sport and the Australian Commonwealth Games Association, of which he was President from 1979 to 1987 – President of the Nation for the 1982 Brisbane Games where he achieved considerable success in convincing all African nations that were part of the Commonwealth to participate.

As Les’ involvement in international sports administration grew, he and Denise had the opportunity to travel extensively. This often resulted in exciting and interesting experiences and the acquaintance of a number of dignitaries. They participated in black tie events around the world and traveled to Russia and China, as well as many European and African countries.

One legacy Les was particularly proud of was his involvement in founding the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). The Confederation of Australian Sport, with Les chairing its Development Committee, convinced the Fraser government to set up the AIS in Canberra after Australia did poorly at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Later, as President of the Confederation of Australian Sport, Les helped found the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985. He was also responsible for connecting all state sports organizations and governments to form a Coaches Association and was instrumental in establishing the Coaches Accreditation Program excellent.

Les meets Prince Philip.

Notwithstanding these many successes, the Brisbane Commonwealth Games may have been the culmination of Les’ long involvement in the world of international athletics. Aside from the participation of representatives from African countries at a time when the anti-apartheid movement was disrupting other sports, the overall success of these games generated enormous pride and enthusiasm across the country. It was also a very tangible result of the work Les put into developing sports infrastructure and talent in Australia, following the disappointing results Australian teams have seen overseas over the past decade. The AIS had only been up and running for a few years, but groundwork began to produce results.

Les’ influence was not limited to Australian sport, as he held highly respected positions on the boards of various international sports organizations, including Governor of the World Masters Games Association and a member of the International Board of Governors of Sport.

In 2000 he was very proud to be part of the torch relay of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. In retirement, Les’ passion for fitness persisted and as he got older he started cycling and enjoyed the sport in his later years. At 70, he made the first of a series of “Around the Bay” trips, much to Denise’s horror. He continued with his exercise regimen – weight lifting and cycling – well into his 80s.

After Les’ death, Sport Australia Hall of Fame Chairman John Bertrand AO posted the following tribute on the Hall of Fame website:

“Les Martyn was one of the most influential sports administrators in Australia and we will miss it very much. Sport was an integral part of Les’ life and his influence on numerous sports was profound; from training and leading Australian weightlifting teams to being President of the Australian Weightlifting Federation, President of the Confederation of Australian Sport and Chairman of the Australian Commonwealth Games Association for nearly a decade.

Les was unique. His passion for sport and life and his influence on sport in Australia will be remembered for years to come.

We mourn a great loss and our deepest condolences go to his three sons Stuart, Paul and Graeme and their families. “

AWARDS and AWARDS (as set out on the Sport Australia Hall of Fame website)

  • Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for Merit to Sport. 1978.
  • Member of the Confederation of Australian Sport Life. 1988.
  • Member, Sport Australia Hall of Fame. 1989.
  • Australian Sports Medalist. 2000.
  • Member of the Australian Weightlifting Hall of Fame.
  • Life Member of the Australian Commonwealth Games Association.
  • Lifelong member of the Oceania Weightlifting Federation.

First published in Southern Peninsula News – October 12, 2021

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