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Jerry L. Martin, one of Illinois’ last pen-and-paper court stenographers, dead at 82

‘It’s amazing what he could do with a pen and a pad of paper, the same as we have now with tape recorders, computers,’ Judge Shelley Sutker-Dermer said.

Court reporter Jerry L. Martin holding one of his beloved dogs.
Court reporter Jerry L. Martin holding one of his beloved dogs.

Jerry L. Martin was one of the last court reporters in Illinois to record proceedings with pen and paper instead of a steno machine.

He’d flip through his note pads, pages flying, transcribing 200 words a minute using Gregg shorthand, a system of squiggles, dots and lines that phonetically represent syllables and words.

And he was astonishingly accurate, said Nancy Naleway, the supervising court reporter in Skokie. She remembers a time she took over for him in a courtroom. Their note-taking overlapped until she gave the “pen writer” a nod that he could leave.

“As a ‘machine reporter,’ we think we’re so fabulous, and we can do all these things, and we’re so fast,” Naleway said. But when they compared transcripts, “He read lines from his steno [pad], and we mirrored each other to perfection. This was Jerry writing by hand at the speed that you’re speaking. It was hands down the most impressive experience. It’s something that has stayed with me for literally for close to 20 years.”

Mr. Martin, 82, died last month at his home in Evanston. He had Parkinson’s disease and congestive heart failure, according to his friend Joe Rocheleau.

He was one of only three pen writers working in the Cook County courts when he retired 20 years ago after more than 30 years.

“It was the end of an era,” said Shelley Sutker-Dermer, the presiding judge at the Cook County regional courthouse in Skokie. “It’s amazing what he could do with a pen and a pad of paper, the same as we have now with tape recorders, computers.”

His transcripts, which he typed from his notes, “were right on,” Sutker-Dermer said. “He was incredibly accurate, incredibly thorough.”

The last court reporter in Illinois still using pen and paper and Gregg shorthand, Nellie Gilpin, 86, retired in 2020 from the Douglas County courts in downstate Tuscola, according to Dustie Spradlin, director of Illinois Court Reporting Services.

Mr. Martin learned shorthand at the old School of Commerce at Northwestern University.

Young Jerry L. Martin grew up in Elmira, New York.
Young Jerry L. Martin grew up in Elmira, New York.

He grew up in Elmira, New York, where his family lived above the grocery store his parents Frances and Rexford Martin ran.

After settling in Chicago, he found new freedom to live as a gay man, Rocheleau said.

Mr. Martin and Bob Eagan, his life partner of 32 years, lived on the Gold Coast.

Until his partner’s death in 2007, they loved to travel, taking trips to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Cannes, Lisbon, London, Naples, Nice, Paris, Positano, Sorrento, St. Tropez, Salzburg and Vienna.

Mr. Martin loved movies, especially old ones starring Rita Hayworth or Marilyn Monroe. He adored Elizabeth Taylor in works by Tennessee Williams, including 1958’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and the 1989 TV movie “Sweet Bird of Youth.”

But Judy Garland was his favorite performer. He had a poster to commemorate seeing her legendary April 23, 1961, concert at Carnegie Hall, where Garland kept getting interrupted with standing ovations and adulation.

“He took the train from Elmira to New York with his mom to see it,” Rocheleau said.

In recent years, Mr. Martin enjoyed seeing “Hamilton.”

“His last outing to a musical,” Rochelau said, “we went to ‘West Side Story’ on his birthday.”

Jerry L. Martin loved “nice restaurants with big menus.”
Jerry L. Martin loved “nice restaurants with big menus.”

A tennis fan, Mr. Martin would always watch when the No. 1-ranked male player, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, was on the court.

He stood 6-feet-3 and wore impeccable suits and ties. His favorite drink was a gin and tonic with lime. And he loved “nice restaurants with big menus,” Rocheleau said.

“Jerry was like an alarm clock when it came to having lunch. He had to have lunch,” Naleway said. “He went out to a restaurant every day and wanted to sit down and have a good meal.”

Near the Skokie courthouse, The Bagel was a favorite.

As a young man, he served two years in the Army in Georgia, according to Rocheleau.

In keeping with Mr. Martin’s wishes, he was cremated, and no service was held.

He is also survived by his sister Linda Lockner, nieces Allison Mott and Suzanne Blunt, nephew Eric Struble and many friends.

Jerry L. Martin.
Jerry L. Martin.