John Lewis Martin was born on June 5, 1941 in Eagle Lake, Maine. At the age of three, his parents moved from Eagle Lake to Brownville Junction. He grew up speaking French and English. Martin graduated from Fort Kent Community School in 1959 and afterwards spent two years at the University of Maine, Fort Kent, before transferring to the University of Maine at Orono (UMO). After his graduation from UMO in 1963, Martin stayed there to begin graduate work and also won a position in the state legislature the next year. His election (as a Democrat) caused some short-lived tension between Martin and his parents, who were Republicans. He stayed in the Maine House of Representatives until 1995 and was Speaker of the House for nineteen and a half years. During that period, he had a number of other jobs, including teaching at various colleges and high schools in northern Maine and serving as an aide to Senators Edmund S. Muskie and George Mitchell.
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Nicoll, Don, "Martin, John oral history interview" (1998). Edmund S. Muskie Oral History Collection. 238.