In Remembrance: Patricia Martens, IBCLC, PhD, FILCA, CM

Pat Martens oct 2007 high resThe International Lactation Consultant Association® (ILCA®), along with the lactation profession as a whole, grieves the recent passing of Patricia Martens. Pat has been instrumental in the advancement of our field and her contributions will be missed.

We reached out to Dr. Anne Merewood, the editor for the Journal of Human Lactation (JHL) to share some stories and memories of her relationship with Pat. She shared:

There are several stories that stick in my mind about Pat that go beyond the research and teaching at which she so excelled. Pat and her husband had a farm (as well as an airplane), and some of her animal stories were her funniest. She told one about a sheep that had fallen over, and could not get up. The sheep was lying in her barn and no matter what she and Gary did, it was lethargic and refused to move. They fed it and cared for it as it was lying there declining, and they were sure it wouldn’t make it. They asked a local farmer who obviously had more experience than they did, what to do. The man looked at them as if they were mad and said, “Just stand up the sheep.” Those who knew Pat can imagine her description of this activity. Sure enough, Pat and Gary lifted up the sheep, stood it on its four feet, and off it ran.

She also loved to tell a story about a cow that had bloat and gas problems on Christmas, and a local farmer (there were a lot of them about, apparently) told them to feed it a bottle of soapy water. So there was Pat on a freezing cold Canadian winter Christmas Day, pumping a bottle of soapy water into the cow. The cow did an enormous burp and all its problems vanished.

Pat had ways of telling these simple funny stories and laughing along with you that were quite unique. She permeated all her research talks with humor. One can just imagine, as she told it, all her statistics students sitting in their exams, furtively waving their arms about and putting their fingers to their noses to remember the action-packed mnemonics that helped everyone to recall the complex statistical concepts she was so good at teaching. She combined humor, common sense, and research acumen to prove that you can lead an outstanding academic center without being aloof or pretentious. It was Pat who persuaded me to apply for the position of JHL editor. While I received plenty of wise counseling from many people during that application process and in the position ever since, it was Pat who looked at me with a big smile and said, “But of course you should do it.” She was always at the end of the phone with pragmatic, down to earth, straightforward advice.

When Pat first told me about her cancer, we knew it was bad news. “Now if I had to choose, this would NOT be my choice of a cancer to get…hoping I’m a friendly outlier. It’s weird to be sitting here working, feeling pretty good and looking just like I always do (except slimmer), and knowing that it is a flip of the coin if I survive the next 9 months.  But my emotional/spiritual state of mind is just fine, so don’t worry about me.  I’m a do-er, not a worrier, and I approach this as a very interesting scientific research project on the qualitative experience of cancer.” Pat lived 22 months after this email. She also said, “I couldn’t ask for a better more loving environment of support at work, home, and around the world.”

Good people should live longer. It will be hard to manage without Pat.

Barbara Wilson-Clay also offered the following remembrance:

We lectured together at several conferences, and got to know one another over dinners. Pat was one of the most talented teachers I’ve ever observed. Her wit and humor brilliantly transformed subjects like interpreting statistics. I once saw her make a crowd of several hundred health care professionals act out the nursery rhyme “I’m a Little Tea Pot” to clarify a statistical concept. Pat was kind enough, on several occasions, to look at manuscripts I was working on to check whether my conclusions about the research were sound on the basis of the numbers cited. She contributed hugely to our profession, to mothers and babies, and I’m sure her students at the university were changed forever by her instruction. I’m heart sick to hear she has passed away. I would have loved to tell her how I valued her.

DSCN6526In 2013, at the ILCA Conference in Melbourne, Australia, it was announced that JHL would begin awarding the JHL Patricia Martens Annual Award for Excellence in Breastfeeding Research. As was only appropriate, the inaugural award was given to Pat herself for her incredible body of research in the lactation field. While accepting the award, Pat graciously said,

“Thank you to all of my ‘journey friends’. I call you ‘journey friends’ because you don’t come to success without the persons, the places, and the times being fortuitous in your lifetime. We want to make those persons, places, and times fortuitous for everyone so that we may allow success for everyone. This is not an individual award. It is an award because I have such a wonderful community around me of ILCA, La Leche League, and all of the people who are my ‘journey friends’.”


We are so grateful for Pat and what she gave to our field and those around here. We are honored to be her “journey friends”. You may read Pat’s obituary HERE.

How did Pat’s work impact your practice? Do you have memories to share or a reflection to offer? We would love to hear from those who were influenced by Pat, not only for her research and teaching, but also for the care she provided to breastfeeding families. Please comment below or on our Facebook Page. These comments would be treasured memories for all who cared for Pat.


17 Responses to In Remembrance: Patricia Martens, IBCLC, PhD, FILCA, CM

  1. Gini Baker, UC San Diego Lactation Programs 20 January 2015 at 10:10 #

    Pat was a talented and generous woman … Our profession is better because of her and her work! … We all will miss this incredible woman … Gini Baker

  2. kkendallt 20 January 2015 at 11:25 #

    I was truly sorry to hear of Pat’s death. She was a lovely woman and a brilliant researcher. The breastfeeding world is a little darker without her in it. We will miss her.

  3. Hedi Harpaz 20 January 2015 at 13:02 #

    This is a very very sad news!! At the ILCA conf at San Diego, I had the opportunity to enrich my knowledge of how to read lactation research , by attending Pat Martens sessions . I can’t believe she is gone!! She was such a brilliant lecturer ! She had a unique way of teaching something that can be so boring in such a unique , funny , lovely , interesting way! I will never forget her!
    Hedi Harpaz

  4. Jodine Chase (@jodinechase) 20 January 2015 at 14:04 #

    I remember Pat’s little teapot demonstration at a National Breastfeeding Conference in Toronto. She had such a gift. We were so lucky to have her up here in Canada, and to be able to share her with the world.

  5. labbok 20 January 2015 at 16:32 #

    We had been talking about writing together – to make breastfeeding research more fun for the reader…We all have lost a friend and colleague, a phenomenal speaker, and just a wonderful human being.

  6. joyheads 20 January 2015 at 17:31 #

    The most entertaining lecturer I have ever heard. Vale Pat

  7. Irena Zakarija-Grkovic 21 January 2015 at 02:37 #

    I had the honour of sharing a table with Pat at the ILCA conference in Melbourne, and was amazed at how easy- going, friendly and down-to-earth she was for someone so successful. She also emanated with serenity and wisdom- how I envied her students! Thanks Pat for sharing your gifts so generously with others.

  8. ECBrooks 21 January 2015 at 07:16 #

    Academia, ILCA, parent-based BFg support groups (generally), La Leche League (in particular), lactation research and publication, the IBCLC profession — and human kind — have all lost a beacon with the passing of the incomparable, kind, brilliant, funny Pat Martens.

  9. Leslie Ayre-Jaschke 21 January 2015 at 10:03 #

    Pat and I were both small-town La Leche League Leaders in the 1980s–me in Northern Alberta, she in rural Manitoba–and we had an immediate bond. We both wrote our IBLCE exam in 1987, and later served together on the La Leche League Canada Board, then reconnected through the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada. When I was trying to get into an MSc program in the late 90s and the application required a letter from a former professor, I was stumped, since I hadn’t taken a university course in 20 years. Pat, now a university professor, cobbled together something that I’m sure helped get me into the program, for which I’m grateful every day. Her breastfeeding and other research inspired me and I looked forward to any opportunity to see her speak–she was incredibly gifted at communicating. The world has indeed lost someone who is incomparable.

  10. Nancy Kleinfeld 21 January 2015 at 17:51 #

    I last saw Dr.Martens speak in 2012 and she was such a motivating force to try and understand research concepts. I had the courses in college but no one made it seem so exciting. When this post came on email, I thought that I was about to sign up for a webinar with her! I had no idea that she was sick and I am beyond speechless to hear of her passing. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends at this very sad time.

  11. hedi harpax 22 January 2015 at 12:53 #

    This is sad news! I would like to add my condolences to Pat’s family. I participated in Pat’s session in ILCA conf in San Diego. I enjoyed her fantastic way of teaching Statistics ,to encourage research in lactation and to make us less phobic fm statistic. Her way of teaching was so uniqu and unforgetable .
    I will always remember Pat.

  12. Kay Hoover 22 January 2015 at 18:51 #

    The first story I remember about Pat was when she explained that she was teaching future doctors about statistic. She told us that she assigned the students to read particular research to make various points about statistics and that each of the research articles pertained to breastfeeding. Pat found a unique way to teach future doctors about breastfeeding.
    One year at the ILCA conference Pat was doing a presentation on research for everyone at the conference and I was asked to follow Pat with a presentation on what to do when there is no research. As you can imagine, Pat was a hard act to follow.
    Another year I remember her talk about the bell-shaped curve and how if we moved the whole curve over just a little we have accomplished more than trying to move the end points out further. Of course this was done with a body motion. I found myself months later sharing the idea and using the body motion with someone else who had also attended the conference. It was as if we had our own secret language that Pat had taught us.
    Pat has been one of the co-editors for The Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice for the past two editions. This is a book I turn to frequently as I am searching for answers.
    I will miss the opportunity to send Pat email messages with my questions about research. She was always so willingly to answer my questions and explain things at a level I could understand.
    I will remember Pat’s down-to-earth wisdom and her great smile in addition to everything else that has already been said. Pat, we miss you.

  13. Lois O'Brien 25 January 2015 at 15:10 #

    I never met Pat personally but I did speak to her by telephone about her tongue tie article she wrote. I guess I should call ankylgossia. Not sure of the spelling. Anyway I enjoyed the article written several years ago and it verified why some babies have difficulty. Lois O’Brien

  14. Anne Altshuler 25 January 2015 at 21:04 #

    I first met Pat on Wednesday, July 18, 2001 on a flight from Chicago O’Hare Airport to Mexico City and then to Acapulco to attend the ILCA Conference. The first plane was over an hour late, making the connection in Mexico City was difficult and confusing, Pat had not been issued the needed boarding pass in Winnipeg and then was told she could not board the plane to Acapulco. She was finally able to get on at the last moment (only after a mad dash the length of the airport and then being told the plane had already left). When we reached Acapulco, after dark, her luggage was not on board. It contained all her materials for the presentation she was to give at the conference. She had to wait another 1.5 hours at the airport for the next flight to arrive. It did luckily have her luggage aboard. It was a small ILCA conference that year, only 350, and because of a hurricane the people there got to bond pretty well. Since then I have had the pleasure of hearing Pat lecture at many another ILCA conference. She was a master at making clear all the intricacies of research and statistics in her playful and good-humored and memorable way. I reread her chapter on research last summer in preparation for taking the IBLCE exam for my 20 year recertification by exam, and it helped me immeasurably. I did not know that she was ill. I am so sorry. It is a big loss.

  15. Vera Froese, Public Health Nurse, IBCLC 26 January 2015 at 21:21 #

    I think Pat was the first IBCLC in Manitoba. She had such enthusiasm and was integral to the growth of our breastfeeding community. Her just do it attitude certainly helped my decision to write the exam in 1996. I mentioned to Pat that the exam’s stats and research component worried me. As usual, Pat had a solution. lovely June day, I arrived at her farm for a private tutorial. Pat was in her garden picking strawberries for the tasty lunch she served me before we started.😊
    Pat was a gifted and generous person, so full of creativity. She was one of a kind.

  16. Shelley Buchan Medical Officer of Health 28 January 2015 at 10:31 #

    Pat was such a talented educator. As part of the Need to Know Team that she founded in 2001 (to bring regional health authority policy makers, researchers and government together creating new knowledge and then putting it into action) she became a legend with her revamped songs, statistical dances, licorice demonstrations (on how the Lorenze curves work), home made contraptions (to demonstrate incidence & prevalence) and the famous “squish and shift” tai chi like move…..all part of her ability to make statistics as a science understandable to the masses. She left behind rooms full of students and researchers to carry on her work. A shortened life well lived. We miss you, Pat.


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