BCA’s Marty Sullivan Remembered by Co-Workers, Friends

Co-workers and friends at the Business Council of Alabama remembered the late Martha Louise Foster Sullivan as a wonderful person, devoted mother and caregiver, and consummate professional.

Sullivan, called Marty in the professional world and Marty Lou by close friends, died March 26 at home surrounded by her family. She had valiantly battled cancer for nearly a year.

After graduating from Auburn University in 1980, Marty’s career path included stints as a newspaper reporter, the practice of public relations for corporations and twice for her own firm, publishing a political newsletter, serving as chapter president of the Public Relations Council of Alabama, serving as director of policy and communications for a gubernatorial campaign, and 12 years as the Business Council of Alabama’s Vice President of Public Affairs.

Marty served the BCA and its members from 1997 to 2009.

BCA President and CEO William J. Canary said Marty had a tremendous love for her family, her profession, and the art of communications and by projecting the BCA’s message contributed so much to the BCA’s success.

“Marty’s death deeply saddened our BCA family,” Canary said. “She was a consummate and passionate professional and was admired and respected. We wouldn’t be where we are today without her past wise counsel and professional presentation of our message to BCA members and to the public.

“If the BCA had a Hall of Fame, Marty would be in it,” Canary said. “Her vision, her passion, and her love for making the world a better place than how she found it will be a large part of her legacy to us all.”

Friends and co-workers described Marty’s love of her family and her work. As the poem says, on her life’s headstone, it is the dash between her birth in 1958 and her passing in 2015 that matters.

Nancy “Scottie” Mitchell attended Auburn University where Marty had followed her heart from her native Florida to study public relations. They met when both were sorority presidents and their friendship lasted until the end.

“Marty Lou exemplified, and was the epitome of a gracious Southern woman,” Mitchell said. “She was full of grace, charm, poised, and followed the rules of etiquette to a ‘T’.”

Mitchell said Marty had room in her heart for those she met and worked with and helped many find jobs. She was as beautiful inside as she was on the outside, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said Marty was a fabulous Auburn football fan and knew the intricacies of the game. Her father was an executive with a national bus company who arranged transportation for the Miami Dolphins National Football League team. “Incredibly, Marty Lou and her father had the opportunity to travel on some of those trips and I believe that was the foundation of her lifelong love of the game,” Mitchell said.

It turns out that Marty’s husband, Hoke, is a big Alabama fan, and as is the case with many families in this football-crazy state, the Sullivans lived in a “House Divided,” Mitchell said.

Kim Thompson, Executive Assistant for The Partnership and Special Projects, was Marty’s friend and a member of their Bible study group.

“We were friends because our children went to school together and grew up together,” Thompson said. “At Bible study we prayed together. We were all prayer partners.”

Thompson worked with Marty for her entire 12 years at the BCA and came to know her as a professional who did everything “100 percent.” And she was an excellent writer, Thompson said.

“She was a wonderful person, a great person,” Thompson said. “She was always listening, always there.”

Elaine Fincannon, the BCA’s Administrative Vice President for Investor Relations, Services and Development, worked closely with Marty.

“Marty always was very inclusive in her professional relationship with us,” Fincannon said. “She was always ready and willing to include other staff in conversations that would impact the organization as a whole. Marty practiced a holistic approach long before that term became popular. She believed down to the very fiber of her being what this organization represented.”

Marty was a caring daughter. Her mother had suffered a severe stroke and after the death of her father, Marty, her husband, Hoke, and her sister, Judy, were her mother’s caretakers until Marty had to start chemotherapy to battle the cancer that would eventually take her life.

Marty’s mother spent her last week in Montgomery in Marty and Hoke’s home prior to moving out of state to Judy’s, Mitchell said.

“We knew God orchestrated that situation because it allowed Marty Lou to have an entire week with her mom before she left for the Virginia nursing home and before Marty Lou’s chemo treatments were scheduled to begin,” Mitchell said. “It was a perfect time for them to be together, embrace their situation and just love each other before the move.

“Marty Lou said numerous times that she chose to be a victor over cancer – and not a victim of it – and no matter if she was not healed here on earth – that she would be healed in heaven and that is the victory,” Mitchell said.

“Her strong faith in the Lord was apparent from the very instant she heard the word cancer last April 2014,” Mitchell said. “She told me that she literally felt the calmness of the Holy Spirit over her and a peaceful sense of contentment filled her heart and she trusted God for whatever the future held for her life.”

In her eulogy, Mitchell talked about Marty’s family: “They’ve held a steadfast faith in the Lord who has guided them and carried them through each gigantic hurdle they faced with her ongoing treatment successes and consequent failures.”

Fincannon had two fond memories of Marty, one a great story and the other touching.

One weekend, Fincannon recalled, they had left work early to drive to Destin, Florida, virtually due south of Montgomery, for a “girls’ only” weekend. With Marty driving and anticipating their weekend, Fincannon said they had a wonderful conversation chatting about their children and stopping at exits for snacks.

“About two and a half hours into the trip she turned to me and said, ‘What condo are we going to meet at in Destin?’” Fincannon said. She said she looked and saw the interstate exit to Gulf Shores, which is not virtually due south of Montgomery.

“We were on autopilot. We were supposed to be going to Destin. I laughed and said this was longest trip but the most fun,” Fincannon said.

After arriving at Destin, the confederation of friends talked into the night until Fincannon fell asleep on the sofa. “I felt something and was awakened by Marty putting a blanket over me. It was a tender moment. I’ll always remember that,” she said.

Thompson said Marty’s family and children were important to her.

Marty is survived by her husband, Edwin Hoke Sullivan; two children, Andrew Foster (Drew) Ellis and Martha Ann Ellis Hight (Wes); their father, Richard Michael (Mike) Ellis; three stepsons, Edwin Hoke (Buddy) Sullivan, Jr., Hoke Turner Sullivan, and Christopher Andrew (Drew) Sullivan (Lauren Smith); granddaughter, Mary Ford Sullivan; sister, Judith “Judy” Katherine Serpente (Jim); two nephews, Richard James Flaherty (Sheri) and Sean Patrick Flaherty.

-Dana Beyerle