“I have one last wish,” he said. “I would just love to see The Pavilion.”
University alumnus, Wiley Martin, will return to campus to do just that Friday. The public is invited to help celebrate at 10 a.m. in The Pavilion.
Martin, a former Ole Miss student with cerebral palsy and cancer, made his desire to visit the basketball arena known to his former professor and longtime friend Will Norton during a recent visit.
Norton, dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, wrote a story titled “The Indomitable Wiley Martin” for the most recent edition of the Meek School Magazine. Leslie Westbrook, an adjunct professor at the Meek School, decided she wanted to meet him after reading the article.
The two traveled to Hattiesburg and visited with Martin for more than an hour. They were getting ready to leave and say goodbye when he told them seeing The Pavilion was on his bucket list.
Norton and Westbrook immediately began brainstorming ways to get him here.
The M-Club Alumni chapter of the Ole Miss Alumni Association, which Martin is a member of, helped work out the details of the trip and will be hosting the event.
Clay Cavett, associate director of the Ole Miss Alumni Association, contributed to making Martin’s dream a reality.
Martin is now unable to sit up or ride in a regular automobile so special arrangements had to be made in order to get him to campus safely.
“We contracted with a company out of Phoenix called Angel Flight,” Cavett said. “They are taking care of all transportation from the hospice in Hattiesburg to the airport there, flight up here and transportation to The Pavilion and back.”
According to Cavett, Martin will arrive at The Pavilion via ambulance and will enter the building through the service entrance because he will be on a gurney. He will be shown the floor area and locker rooms before being brought up to The Pavilion Club, where he will be joined by an estimated 30-50 friends.
Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and others are set to make remarks, and some of Martin’s friends will tell stories from when he was involved with the basketball and football teams during the mid-’80s at Ole Miss.
Jamie Holder, wide receiver for the Ole Miss football team from 1983 to 1985, also helped coordinate the campus visit for his old friend.
“He’s just been a good close friend of mine for a long time,” Holder said. “So we started figuring out ways to get him back up here.”
Martin is currently staying at the Ashbury Hospice Home in Hattiesburg.
In addition to living with cerebral palsy his whole life, Martin has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years earlier but was told that he didn’t have it any longer. He later received another diagnosis in August 2016, confirming he does have prostate cancer and it spread to his bones.
“He told me repeatedly that he was going to beat this cancer,” Norton said. “He’s just so tough minded.”
As details about the trip were being worked out and the hospice house approved it, Norton said someone there told Martin he might die on the way there or the way back. Norton said that Martin responded, “I’ll die happy.”
Friends of Martin speak highly of his independence and motivation.
“He’s just someone who never gives up,” Norton said. “I was told he wasn’t going to live more than a month or so when they put him in hospice, and he’s been there a year and a half.”
Holder recalls Martin’s passion for the Ole Miss football and basketball teams.
“He always hung out with us around the football field,” Holder said. “He lived in the athletic dorm because he was the manager for the basketball team and worked with the football team until he graduated.”
The M-Club is planning to start a scholarship in Martin’s name and has asked for donations to help cover the trip’s expenses.
Cavett said roughly $17,000 has been donated so far to get Martin to The Pavilion.
“That has largely been done via word of mouth and his teammates and friends making calls to each other and helping a friend fulfill a wish,” Cavett said.
Though he doesn’t know Martin personally, Cavett said he is very touched by what those who know him are doing.
“I’ve been blown away with the generosity that Wiley’s friends have shown in this last week or so regarding what has amounted to a dying wish,” Cavett said. “One of Wiley’s friends mentioned to me the other day that ‘In typical Ole Miss fashion, we take care of our family, and Wiley is family.’”