Douglas Martin was born in February, 1927 in Ontario, Canada. Raised in a Presbyterian family in Chatham, Ontario, he attended the University of Western Ontario, obtaining a Bachelor's degree in business administration. He then worked as a consultant in advertising and public relations.
In the spring of 1953, Mr. Martin attended a series of “fireside” talks on the Bahá’í Faith in Toronto at the home of John and Audrey Robarts. On his way to their home one evening, he sat down on a park bench to reflect on what he had learned of the Bahá’í Faith. He said later that, as he reflected, he was suddenly seized by the realization that the Bahá’í Faith, with its emphasis on world unity and the oneness of humanity, and its principles of the equality of women and men and the harmony of science and religion, would over time, win to its allegiance the hearts and minds of the peoples of the world. He then walked over to the Robarts’ home, having decided to give his life to the advancement of the Bahá’í Cause.
That spring marked the beginning of what Bahá’ís call “The Ten Year Crusade” (1953-63). In that period the Bahá’í world community expanded enormously around the world, attracting new believers in many countries previously unfamiliar with the Bahá’í Faith. Mr. Martin, like the other scattered Bahá’í believers in Canada at the time, devoted himself to the work of the Bahá’í community, one whose frequent travels across Canada due to his employment allowed him to come to know Canada and the still small Bahá’í community.
A few months after enrolling in the Bahá’í community, he met his future wife, Elizabeth, who became a Bahá’í in 1954. They married in 1956, and moved to a series of localities in southern Ontario as part of the growing expansion of Bahá’í communities throughout Canada. In doing so, he gave up his public relations work, and accepted work as he could, teaching school.
In 1960 he was elected to the national governing council, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, attending three years later the 1963 International Bahá’í Convention at which the supreme governing body of the Bahá’í Faith worldwide, the Universal House of Justice, was elected for the first time.
Mr. Martin’s intellectual interests had turned to history during those years. It was an interest that, in subsequent years generated his ability to discern the forces of world history affecting the course of development of the Bahá’í community. This capacity was of immense value in the enormous contribution he made, both in writing and speaking, to the intellectual and cultural life of the rapidly evolving Bahá’í community. Earning a Master’s Degree in history from the University of Waterloo, he and Elizabeth moved to Saskatoon in 1968 so that he could undertake doctoral studies under the well known Canadian historian, Hilda Neatby. The move was fortuitous at the time as Saskatoon was then embracing larger and larger numbers of young believers, becoming for several years the largest Bahá’í community in Canada. With his wife Elizabeth, and others, he contributed to the consolidation of the ever greater numbers of youth then entering the Bahá’í Faith in Saskatoon and across the country.
His re-election, however, as Secretary of the National Assembly meant that he and Elizabeth had to return in 1970 to live in Toronto, close to the Bahá’í National Centre, an administrative service which prevented his completion of doctoral studies. As the Nine Year Plan (1963-1972) of the Bahá’í world community was nearing its end, he and Elizabeth were asked to spend four months during the summer of 1970 in Iceland in order to help establish a growing Bahá’í community in that country as part of the goals of that Plan.
Mr. Martin was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada from 1960-85, serving for most of those years as its general secretary from 1965-85. Just as he and Elizabeth had earlier rejoiced at the entry in the Faith of so many Indigenous believers, he was particularly keen to do all that he could to learn French, and encourage the emergence of a vibrant community of young Quebecois believers. He and Elizabeth spent a summer in Quebec, and frequently travelled there, always encouraging English Canadian believers to do all they could to support the emergence of a vibrant community of young Quebecois Bahá’ís. Among the many services he initiated, following the Iranian revolution in 1979 that led to a violent increase in persecutions of that country’s Bahá’í population, he was instrumental in establishing relationships with the Canadian government that led to the Bahá’í refugee program that brought several thousand Persian Bahá’ís to Canada. The program proved so effective that several other western countries adopted the program, learning from Canadian government officials as well as Mr. Martin how to manage the program. He also took the lead in organizing the Montreal International Bahá’í Conference in September 1982, attended by 10,000 Bahá’ís.
During those years he was a founding member of the Association for Bahá’í Studies, serving on its international executive committee from 1974-85. He co-authored, with Dr. William S. Hatcher, "The Bahá’í Faith: The Emerging Global Religion," published by Harper & Row and later by the US Bahá’í Publishing Trust. He also published articles and scholarly monographs and lectured widely on the Bahá’í Faith.
In 1985, he was invited by the Universal House of Justice to serve as the Director-general of the Bahá’í International Community's Office of Public Information at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel. In that capacity, among other services in organizing the public information work of the Bahá’í Faith, he served as the editor-in-chief of "One Country," a Bahá’í international news magazine, and "The Bahá’í World," a series of annual reference volumes. He was also asked by the organizing committee of the successful Bahá’í World Congress that brought 30,000 believers from around the world to New York City in 1992, to write the underlying “narrative” of the four-day program of that event.
In 1993 he was elected to the nine-member Universal House of Justice, the supreme authority and governing body for a rapidly expanding Bahá’í world community, serving until his retirement from that body in 2005 when he returned to Canada.
His wife, Elizabeth Martin, passed away in 1999. He leaves no children, and his only close family, his sister, predeceased him by several years. He does, however, leave a huge family of close and loving friends throughout Canada and the world, along with several generations of Bahá’ís and friends of the Bahá’ís who will with grieving hearts not long forget Douglas Martin and the impact he had on their lives.