Profile of Martha Daniel Newell
Martha Daniel Newell, ‘42, brings the quaint hillside village to life.
Using broad strokes and vibrant, energizing colors, she cast the yellow and orange Italian village against the purple mountainside and sky.
She sketches clouds and shadows before putting down her brush to analyze her work.
“I’m more the renegade artist,” she said. “While everyone around me uses precise strokes and muted colors, I’m the loudest one in the class. I go for the zest with bold colors. You paint the way you feel.”
The Georgia College alumna approaches her weekly watercolor class the same way she lives life — with optimism, passion and a yearning to learn.
“Life is like painting with watercolors – it’s full of surprises,” she said. “It can run and do things after you’ve finished. You don’t always know until later what you’ve done.”
At 89, Mrs. Newell maintains her zest for life and learning. She takes classes, plays bridge and dines with her friends and neighbors each evening.
She stretches and exercises in an indoor pool four days a week and spends her afternoons playing, by ear, big band swing pieces on her grand piano. She admits she never learned to read music.
“I’m not a trained musician,” she said. “Music has never interfered with my playing.”
Every night she tunes into “The Charlie Rose Show” to keep up with world events and sharpen her mind.
A native of Atlanta, Mrs. Newell chose Georgia State College for Women because her mother, Myrtice Johnson Daniel, was a 1912 graduate of Georgia Normal & Industrial College, the university’s original name.
Newell was well prepared for the academic challenges.
“I studied so hard in high school that my classes were easy for me compared to other girls,” Newell said. “I was there to improve my mind, and that’s what I did.”
Mrs. Newell lived in Bell Hall and Sanford Hall, and served as president of the Student Government Association while earning a degree in home economics in 1942.
She met Samuel W. Newell Jr. at an Atlanta Symphony performance and married the Georgia Tech graduate in 1943. As the wife of a military man, she watched her pennies and moved across the country.
The night before Mr. Newell was to begin a doctoral program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he told his wife he had a calling to the ministry.
“You can imagine my surprise. I thought I had married an English teacher,” Mrs. Newell said. “I had to give up all my vices overnight to become a minister’s wife. I think I did a pretty good job.”
Dr. Newell’s Presbyterian ministry took them to a small church in South Carolina and then to Davidson College in North Carolina where he served 1,200 male students.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Mrs. Newell said. “We spent a lot of time with our girls on the campus. But when the oldest turned 13, it was time to move the girls away from all those men.”
The family moved to Richmond, Virginia, where Dr. Newell served River Bend Presbyterian Church for 15 years. The daughters attended Presbyterian-sponsored Collegiate School where the grandchildren followed and Dr. Newell served as a trustee. Now, Mrs. Newell’s two great-granddaughters are enrolled at the prestigious private school for this coming fall.
Mrs. Newell returned to Georgia College for her 50th class reunion in 1992. She made a second trip to the university in 2009 with her three daughters – Patti Williams, Scottie Slater and Meg Gottwald, who all live in Richmond. “I wanted to show my daughters where Mom went to school,” she said. “I think the girls have learned a lot about their mother during recent years.”
Also accompanying her on the visit was a niece, Barbara, from Macon and two of her 1942 classmates, Miriam Jones Chamberlain of Newborn, Georgia, and Jean Stewart Jones of Greensboro, Georgia. Friends for 72 years, their fond memories of Georgia College and their enduring friendship prompted a spontaneous vocal rendition of the French National Anthem, La Marseillaise, in perfect French, during a luncheon for the visitors hosted by President Leland.
Philanthropy is not new to the Newell family. Using money from the sale of family property, Mrs. Newell has enriched the lives of students at Union Theological Seminary and the Collegiate School in Richmond and Davidson College as well as at Georgia College. She also supports cancer research at the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University in honor of her grandson, Carrington, who has a brain tumor.
The Newells were married for 58 years before his death in 2001. “I often wonder what Sam would think about all that I’ve done. I think he would be proud.”
Adapted from articles in the Spring 2010 Connection magazine.