Martha Therese “Rese” Elizabeth Connell, 74, passed away on July 4, 2018, at Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida, from complications of a stroke. Martha—known for her killer wit, generous heart and unforgettable laugh—fought valiantly for over a month before peacefully departing. At her side were her loving husband, Edward, and son, Charlie.
Before we go too far, one must understand that she was a woman of many names. For those of us who knew her the best, the moniker attached to her is an indicator of location and era. Those that met her at Frannie and Duffy’s house on Union Street in Lafayette, Indiana, know her as Rese. If that introduction took place in New England during the ‘60s, you likely called her Marty. If disco was on the radio and Chicago’s John Hancock building was in the background, Martha is the handle you would use. By the time Reagan was in office and she found herself living in the shadow of California’s Mount Diablo, things had come full circle and she was Rese once again. Two decades later she would return to the Midwest, and while a lot had changed, her name had not, so we were back to Martha. Precedent led us to believe that another change would be in store when she set foot on her beloved Amelia Island, but she had to keep people constantly on their toes and for the first time she stuck with a name after a move.
Upon her birth on August 28, 1943, Martha “Rese” Watson became the newest addition to a bustling and lively household in Lafayette, Indiana. While her six older siblings may not have known that they even wanted a little sister, Rese barged into their lives nonetheless, and soon became both the baby the eldest siblings could spoil and the partner in crime those closer in age were seeking. The Watsons are a family that laughs often, loves their dalmatians and enjoys getting into mischief—traits that Martha would carry with her for the rest of her life.
A town like Lafayette could only hold on to an adventurous soul like Martha for so long, and after graduating from Central Catholic High School she was on her way to Mount St. Mary’s College in New Hampshire. It wasn’t long before Martha was proudly dismissed from this institution and given the freedom to pursue a real life in Boston.
Boston is where Martha would fall in love with two of the most important fixtures in her life. Firstly, she made the pilgrimage to Fenway Park and became enamored with the Boston Red Sox. For 40-something years she had many opportunities to second-guess this decision as the team continued to break her heart before finally winning it all in 2004. Secondly, and far more importantly, it was in the Hub where Martha would meet her future husband Edward Connell. She never considered second-guessing this choice.
After more than a couple years of dating, the two were finally married on August 18, 1973, back in Lafayette,. The newlyweds would spend a few years living it up in Chicago before picking up stakes and heading west to Walnut Creek, California. It was here that they purchased a nice suburban home with a pool in the back—it was almost idyllic. Only one thing was missing. And on August 8, 1980, that thing arrived in the form of Edward Charles Connell IV. With the same name as his father, a nickname had to be chosen. Luckily, giving nicknames was one of Martha’s best skills. Her son would go on to take the moniker Charlie, just like one of her most memorable uncles. For the next couple of weeks, and periodically over the next 37 years, Martha answered the phone, “This is Charlie’s momma.”
Martha’s love and generosity towards her boys was always on display, never more so than on Christmas morning. Each December Martha would fill the house with trees, lights, Santa figurines, candles and all manner of tchotchkes. The centerpiece of it all being the tree. The tree itself was never spectacular, it was the constantly widening circle of gifts that made it impossible to reach the trunk and water the tree that was most notable. She poured her heart and soul into every exquisitely wrapped package. As they were opened she would beam with joy as she spoiled every person lucky enough to be in her circle.
Throughout her many different homes one constant followed Martha—her spot at the kitchen table. It was from behind a pile of books and scattered papers that Martha would hold court, always with a Diet Coke in her hand. Each conversation was filled with laughter, non-sequiturs, odd proclamations given with total conviction, gossip and more laughter. Often going on for hours and usually only ending due to total exhaustion of the Diet Coke supply, these conversations were Martha in her element.
People were always the key to Martha’s happiness. She enjoyed cooking, but she loved cooking for a crowd. She took joy in traveling the world, but it was her traveling companions that made each new destination worthwhile. There was never a baby that she didn’t smile at, nor was there ever a dog that she didn’t pet. Martha fed on the love of the world, and returned it tenfold.
Martha was preceded in death by her parents, Francis Duffy Watson and Frances “Frannie” Watson; her brothers Edward Watson and William Watson; her sisters Mary Anne Elliott and Ellen Watson; and her dalmatians Frankie, Honey and Dotti. Martha is survived by her brother Duffy Watson; her sister Nancy Plaster; her husband Edward Connell; her son Charlie Connell and his partner Kim Nowacki; scores of nieces and nephews; and the 2013 World Champion Boston Red Sox.
A memorial service will be held at Oxley-Heard Funeral Directors in Fernandina Beach, Florida at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, July 17, 2018. People are encouraged to come and share their favorite memories of Martha.
In lieu of flowers the family asks that you consider a donation to either the Nassau County Council on Aging or the ASPCA.