Championing the Least of These

For the holidays, and at the end of a trying year, we are happy to bring some attention to one of the essential workers in our lives with this profile of Dr. Andy Martin by Jakay Jarvis, a research associate on our staff. May all our customers, friends and family stay safe!

Andrew Ayers Martin

Andrew Ayers Martin, MD, JD, FCAP of Clarksdale, Miss.

‘Championing the least of these’

Whether it’s health care, the marginalized in history, or the environment, north Georgia native Dr. Andy Martin is dedicated to healing the world.

As a premed student at Emory University, Andrew Ayers Martin took a medical anthropology course and was hooked.

A nearly lifelong passion for history, fueled from the age of 10 or so by reading family histories, led him to sign up for the anthropology course. He read a book “Plagues and People” by William H. McNeill that channeled his interest in the effects of disease on shaping the DNA of populations.

Curiosity about the influences on populations grew out of Andy’s background. His hometown of Toccoa was in a multicultural region where long-established Native American tribes had towns, trading routes, and a lifestyle suited to the resources of the area before Europeans began to settle near Currahee Mountain.

One of his ancestors, James Thomas Ayers,  became famous in local history for flying a tub in a whirlwind in the presence of his mother Priscilla Bradley Ayers.

An ancient Indian community, settled in A.D. 500, inhabited by Cherokee in 1450, and marked by an island in a lake now, drew traders as early as 1690. Tugaloo Town – as it became known – was fought over in the early 1700s by Creeks allied with the Spanish and French and Cherokee who sided with the British. In 1776, American patriots destroyed this important Cherokee town. Yet the ancient site holds its place in the area’s communal consciousness.

The European settlers established a peaceful coexistence among themselves and the Native population that Andy says continues today.

That curiosity about populations bolstered his future work. He pursued pathology to ferret out the causes, methods and interventions of disease to heal people.

He’s battled diseases ever since, tracking their impact on populations, particularly among the vulnerable. From the AIDS/HIV scourge that overtook the world in the 1980s to the present COVID-19 pandemic, Andy has sought strategies to help people facing them.

“The COVID-19/SARS-CoV2 pandemic reminds me of the AIDS/HIV pandemic which hit the world in the 1980s,” he says. “I was learning microbiology in 1981-82 at Emory Medical School from professors who worked for the CDC. These professors were featured in the movie ‘And the Band Played On.’

“I later served as pathology coordinator for the Tulane-LSU Clinical Trials Unit, doing numerous autopsies and reviewing many cases,” Andy explains.

He established his anatomic pathology laboratory, MidSouth Pathology, LLC in the Mississippi Delta region 25 years ago and, in addition, now serves as medical laboratory director/pathologist for four Delta hospitals’ clinical laboratories.

“I interpret peripheral blood smears daily which show the atypical lymphocytes and smudge cells seen in viral illnesses,” he says. “I also supervise the quality control for COVID-19/SARS-CoV2 PCR antigen and antibody testing.

“The virus seems to hit some ethnic groups disproportionately and harshly, reminiscent of the way smallpox and measles disproportionately killed Native Americans in what amounted to unintentional biologic warfare.”

Andy’s close work with the current pandemic leads to his cautions for public response: “This virus is a true existential threat and should be taken seriously. I know doctors and nurses who died or almost died from the disease. This virus should not be political.

To help combat misinformation and to educate the public about COVID-19/SARS-CoV2, Andy uses social media platforms like Facebook to post informative articles from reliable sources such as The New England Journal of Medicine.

“Listen to the doctors, especially the epidemiologists, and practice good social hygiene and social distancing until a vaccine is proved safe and effective by the FDA.

“Antivirals, dexamethasone, and serum antibody therapies provide hope for recovery for those afflicted by COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2,” he says.

“Several strains of the virus exist, including the deadly variety which first showed up in Italy and New York. As testing advances, the more deadly forms need to be differentiated from the less deadly forms.”

Ancestors’ history of service

A peek at Andy’s family tree reveals he wasn’t the first in his line to heal the sick … or work to prevent the spread of disease.

A fourth great-uncle, Dr. Richard Banks, vaccinated the Cherokee and settlers against smallpox and was instrumental in helping curb the spread of the disease in Georgia and South Carolina in the 1800s, Andy says. Banks County, Ga., was named for this ancestor to honor his healing contributions to all the region’s residents.

Andy’s uncle Dr. Dan Allen Martin suggested Andy enroll at Emory University College of Medicine where Dan and his four sons studied medicine. Andy had won a Davidson McCurdy Scholarship to pay for his education at Emory and Emory Medical where he excelled, earning his M.D.

After graduation, he earned a law degree from Duke University and took an elective year there in health administration. He says the latter helped him when he established his practice in Mississippi as did his father, Wallace Ford Martin, a Georgia business entrepreneur who offered an example and advice.

After Andy’s years at Duke, he practiced law in California, where the coroner in Los Angeles suggested he work there as a forensic pathologist, Andy recalls. Andy decided to continue studies in pathology at Tulane University School of Medicine and received a surgical pathology fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Why choose the Mississippi Delta for his practice?

“To serve the least of these,” Andy explains, referring to the biblical book of Matthew 25:40. He says he felt a real need among the sick in western Mississippi for good medical diagnostic services.

His dedication in service to others also finds precedent in his ancestral lines. While Great-uncle Richard Banks tended peoples’ bodies, two others cared for their spiritual needs.

The Rev. Thomas J. Maxwell, a fifth great-grandfather, founded Line Baptist Church for a mixed Cherokee-European congregation at Currahee Mountain. A placard for the church reads no night meetings could be held because “all white people had to be off Indian lands by sundown.”

Another ancestor, the Rev. David Garrison, was a Methodist circuit rider for Northeast Georgia and the Cherokee Nation.

Andy points out that mutual respect, friendships, even marriages among the different populations — settlers, Native Americans, and at least one line of Sephardic Jews – established today’s multicultural atmosphere.

“I have anecdotal stories of my family’s close associations with them near the old Cherokee border with Georgia at Currahee Mountain and the Wofford settlement,” he says.

Also, generations ago, Andy says, John Dabney Jack Terrell, a brother of Andy’s third great-grandmother Elizabeth (Terrell) Martin married a Cherokee woman whose English name was Elizabeth Graves. Andy points out that Jack and Lizzie took their seven children to Oklahoma/Indian Territory in the early 1830s before the Trail of Tears, where they were known as Old Settlers. Their descendants are registered Cherokee whose DNA matches that of Andy’s family, he says.

Andy explains one ancestor, William David Hinkle/Henckel, married a Native American woman who was said to have been Powhatan, in western Virginia in the mid-1700s. These were grandparents to Andy’s third great-grandmother Sarah Hinkle Bradley.

Joshua Polk Anderson, born in Haywood County, N.C., was the son of an older Josiah Anderson who married Mary Hannah Rebecca Gilder Longswamp, whose grandchildren said she was Cherokee, but since she was not listed in the rolls, the federal government denied the application of granddaughter Rebecca Lucinda Dooley (Chatlin).

Rebecca’s mother Ruth Gilley Anderson and Joshua Polk Anderson moved south to Habersham County, Georgia, where he became a trader on the Unicoi Parkway near Ebenezer Methodist Church in Hollywood, Georgia. He likely spoke Cherokee, as well as English, allowing him to trade with the Cherokee, who still lived in North Georgia before the Trail of Tears.

Northeastern Georgia and surrounding lands are the historical home to Native American tribes including Cherokee and Creek and welcomed early settlers – Spanish, French, Portuguese, British, and Jewish traders from Charleston and Savannah. The Gypsy/Romany also visited the area, judging from the DNA of old settlers there, he points out.

Andy claims no tribal connection because the connections are remote and dilute, but he embraces the ancestry within his line and in his DNA. When people ask him if he’s Cherokee, he says, “I am a friend of the Native Americans, including the Cherokee.”

Andy suspects his dark looks

After taking a forensic ancestry DNA test with DNA Consultants, Andy suspects his dark looks (shown here in a youthful portrait) might come from a Romany line in his family tree. “The connection to the Gypsy/Romany that I found a few years back was confirmed in the DNA Consultants analysis, as were Jewish connections in both sides, including Histaloo, an apparent Sephardic family in Northeast Georgia, ancestors through my Ayers,” he says. On his Rare Genes from History report, he received the Sinti Gene from one parent. The company’s database contains five reference populations for this unusual ethnic group.

Andy took a DNA Fingerprint Plus test, , with DNA Consultants to see what populations would find genetic matches. As a scientist, genealogist, and historian, why did Andy decide to test with the company?

He says he trusts the scientific methods the company uses.

“We inherit only 46 chromosomes from millions of ancestors, increasing exponentially back in time, our DNA reflects only a small fraction of our genetic past. The bits and pieces of the others are found in the insertions in chromosomes, like a shadow cast from the other ancestors. DNA Consultants finds these small bits and pieces of our genetic past,” Andy explains.

Andy admits he likes helping people untangle their family connections and takes his skills as a genealogist, family historian, and scientist to do just that. He is a member of a number of groups, some on Facebook, where he offers information about his own ancestral connections when people seek connections to those families and about the historical populations of his home state and surrounding areas.

Environmental concerns

The environment is an abiding interest for Andy, and it started in his youth.

In high school, he says, he researched hydrocarbons and their effects on the ozone layer, winning the state environmental science fair for Georgia in 1976. U.S. President Gerald Ford presented Andy with a presidential environmental protection award for that year.

“This activity helped me to be accepted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT),” he recalls, noting that he worked in environmental law before settling into his career in pathology.

Personal Life

Football figured as an important part of Andy’s early years, and in Stephens County High School in Toccoa, where he was a linebacker and captain of the defense. He also excelled in wrestling.

“The staff at Baylor and MD Anderson heard I used to wrestle and invited me to come out to their jujitsu/jukado dojo or club,” he says, and although he advanced rapidly and was beating black belts regularly, he was heading to Mississippi. “They gave me a lifetime achievement award from the American Judo Association.

“I also love canoeing and whitewater rafting.”

But the 58-year-old former football standout follows the SEC, especially the University of Georgia Bulldogs for whom his father played. He also is devoted to ACC basketball following the Duke University Blue Devils, one of his alma maters.

He’s handing down his love of sports to the next generations, teaching them the skills of canoeing at their lakeside retreat in Lake Village, Arkansas, where he and his wife, Amy, enjoy getting out into nature.

Daughter Malorie, age 28, and husband Allen Gibson live in Spring, Texas, with sons Douglas, 8, and Derek, 6. Malorie won a Rodeo Art Contest as a senior in high school, and her dad says that talent comes from his mother’s Meaders family, “who invented the Jughead Pottery studied by the Smithsonian in the 1930s.”

Andy’s 22-year-old son, William, is a third-year student in Mississippi State’s building and construction engineering school and has won student of the year for the last two years in the program. In high school, he was an honor graduate, All State Offensive Tackle and won a DAR Good Citizenship Award.

Pride in family – then and now – and service to others are driving forces for Andy in all areas of his life. He’s a seeker of information, a seeker of solutions. And he wants to pass the information, the solutions along to help others find theirs.

Andy takes up causes that need solutions and chases the answers.

Jakay Jarvis is an investigator and research associate at DNA Consultants. She lives in Florida but her family is from Kentucky. She is a graduate of Stetson University, DeLand, Fla. and previously pursued a career in journalism. Contact her at