She had dedicated more than 30 years to the care of animals, first as director of volunteers for the Cumberland Wildlife Foundation and then at her home in Mt. Juliet, where she lived with her husband, songwriter/producer Alan Rush and two children, Gregory (Nayla), now living in Alexandria, Virginia, and Carrie (Brian) O’Connor, of Lebanon, TN.
Friends and associates lauded Marty as a tireless champion for animals and an advocate for respect and compassion for all living things.
“She taught thousands of kids about raptors and other animals and why they were important to our world,” said Doug Markham, public information officer for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, referring to the programs she carried into schools and camps, part of a wide educational outreach.
“She always emphasized that every animal has its place,” added Nancy Garden, director of education at Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary in Brentwood from 1996-2013, “even the skunks and snakes and spiders, things they might not like.”
After Cumberland Wildlife Foundation closed its doors and its eagle hacking program was transferred to Dollywood, “people started calling Marty at home,” said her husband.
She obtained state and federal permits and turned their home and yard into the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. It served as triage, ICU, recovery ward and therapy clinic for everything from mice to mountain lions, from cardinals to vultures—essentially every mammal and large bird native to Tennessee.
She spoke to groups ranging from pre-schools to retirement homes, from scout troops to college classrooms, letting people get up close and personal with animals and sharing a message of conservation and respect. She did presentations at the Wilson County Fair and the Tennessee State Fair, and had an exhibit and program at the Nashville Lawn & Garden Show for over 20 years. Those speaking engagements, profiles on Nashville television stations, and an early appearance on Animal Planet expanded her reputation greatly. She got animals, according to Carrie, “from practically every state that touches Tennessee and some that didn’t.”
“She got calls from England,” added Alan, “and she finally decided she wasn’t going to be able to do much with those, since everything operated on donations.”
“It went from a couple of calls a day to 30 or 40 a day,” said Carrie. “I think the first year it was about five or six hundred animals, and by the next year it was over a thousand.”
“She had a great conscience and she worried about getting them rehabilitated and back out into the wilderness as often as possible. She was very conscientious about it and cared about them as much as anybody I know about the animals she was trying to rehabilitate.”
That compassion ran deep. “Somebody had a white duck and it was blind so my mom said she’d keep it and take care of it,” said Carrie. “It was in a cage but one night a raccoon chewed off half its beak. My mother spent a year-and-a-half preparing food for that duck and hand-feeding it three times a day. It died on the operating table having a prosthetic beak put on.”
“She never turned anything down,” said Jean Buchanan, director of Owl’s Hill from 1990-2009, “and if she had a starling, it got the same attention as a barn owl or great horned owl. She was sometimes up with baby animals three or four times a night, taking care of these orphaned birds, until they were feathered out and began to be self-feeding.”
Her presentations at Owl’s Hill, which had day camps for children, were extremely popular.
“Her house,” said Buchanan, “was wall-to-wall cages and animals. People would drop them off in the middle of the night and she wouldn’t even know who had brought them.”
All of those animals, of course, required a lot of food. “Hunters would donate carcasses,” said Carrie. “Some- times they’d keep the good stuff and give her the rest, and she’d be out there with giant cleavers hacking it up. Sometimes they weren’t field dressed at all and the animals would get the benefit of the entire animal.”
“I would call her when I saw a deer on the side of the road,” said Carolyn Sells, a friend from her days on Music Row. “She and Alan might come get it or she might say, ‘Freezer’s full right now,’ but thanks for calling!’”
“I remember Mom had to tube feed one of the birds of prey,” said Carrie, “and she had to liquefy the food. She got an old blender and put frozen dead mice in it and was able to put that in a blender and tube feed that bird. She was tough.”
Marty was born Martha Joan Ragland on January 22, 1946, in Oklahoma City, one of seven siblings, including Cynthia Johnson of Yukon, OK, Alice Rose Streigel of Marysville, WA, Mary Beth Slonicker of Whidbey Island, WA, and Peter Ragland of Oklahoma. She was predeceased by two brothers, John and Walter, and by her parents, Hal and Jessie Ragland.
“They were very poor,” said Alan. “They had two small houses, like sharecropper cabins, and they slept in one and had the kitchen and living area in the other. They had an outhouse. When it was time to go back to school, her dad would take some cardboard and draw around each of their feet and go buy shoes. They each had one pair through the school year and in the summer they would be barefoot.”
She went to McGinnis High School and married Alan on March 14, 1966. Alan had signed a songwriting deal with Combine Music, and they moved to Nashville.
“When the kids got big enough,” said Alan, “she started working,” and she spent a number of years at Combine Music and Monument Records.
“She had adopted the wildlife rescue catch phrase ‘Saving tomorrow’s wildlife today,’” said Alan. “It was her motto.”
“She was amazing,” said Buchanan. “There will never be another like her.”
A memorial celebration will be held from 4-7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20, at the home of Wayne Hamblen, 1518 N. W. Rutland Rd., Mt. Juliet.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to www. gofundme.com/MartyRush.