She had Emmy-winning talent, but many knew her as mother and friend

Martha Carr Atwater ’86 in 1994
Martha Carr Atwater ’86 in 1994
Courtesy Atwater family

April 30, 1964 – Feb. 22, 2013

Martha Atwater’s close friends were not surprised that her writing and humor won her an Emmy for her work on the award-winning PBS children’s show Word World. They weren’t even surprised by the fact that it took Atwater years to disclose the news.

“It was so Martha not to mention it,” says her former roommate Mary Slattery Johnson ’86. And, Johnson points out, it wasn’t modesty that kept her from sharing professional success but, rather, compassion: “She didn’t want you to feel bad that she had won an Emmy and you hadn’t!” 

After majoring in English, Atwater moved to New York to attend film school at New York University and become a writer. She searched for a writing job for a few months, then started working as a valet at New York’s Water Club, a restaurant. She reveled in the experience, viewing it as a way to get to know the “human experience,” as Johnson puts it. Soon Atwater started working at Scholastic Press, rising to become vice president of programming and working on such well-loved PBS programs as Clifford the Big Red Dog, The Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Arthur. 

Atwater was best known in her Brooklyn Heights community as a devoted parent (with her husband, Tom Wallack, she raised two daughters, now 17 and 13) and a cheerful neighborhood activist with a larger-than-life personality. As a member of the community association, she asked the difficult questions everyone else tiptoed around, all while making her neighbors and colleagues laugh. She ran the fundraisers at her daughters’ schools, once arranging for Clifford himself to introduce the school’s movie night. “She was one of those people who typified the expression, ‘If you want to get something done, ask a busy person,’” says Lexi Russello, who served on the board of the Brooklyn Heights Association with Atwater. “That’s why so many people in the community knew her.” 

In February, Atwater had just come out of a bakery in her beloved Brooklyn, where she had bought cookies for her family, when a truck jumped the curb and struck her, killing her. One of the first people to arrive at the family’s home was the neighborhood grocer who often helped carry her bags.

In late 2010, Atwater started a blog at www.desperatelyseekingjonstewart.com, which featured witty observations on everything from pop culture to politics. She last posted Feb. 21, the day before she died, beginning “Henny Penny was right: The sky is falling!” and listing funny solutions to the not-so-funny problems in the day’s headlines. As for the blog’s name, she wrote, she was not a groupie of the television host but, rather, “I want to meet him because I have accomplished something significant. I want to meet him because I’m somebody to meet.”

Kathryn Beaumont ’96 is an attorney and freelance writer in Boston.