Martha Ruth Keltner Barham peacefully passed from life on this earth to continue her life with Jesus on September 26, 2023. She was born on May 5, 1932, in Memphis, Tennessee, the daughter of Lofton Graves Keltner, Jr. and Mary Frances Osborne Keltner.
From her beginnings, Martha was ambitious, popular, and bright. She grew up in Memphis, was dedicated to her church, LaBelle Baptist, and excelled at her studies at South Side High School. While achieving academic awards and also working for the Memphis City Library system, Martha also sold popcorn and candy at The Capitol Theater (eventual home of Stax Records). While working there, she locked eyes with Edwin Marberry, there was a spark, but it was a few years later before they reconnected. After earning her B.S. in Education from Memphis State University, she taught at Sherwood Elementary and, until recently, remembered the names of her students and openly wondered what had happened to each of them. After Sherwood, she ventured to Riverside, CA, and taught for a year in what she happily remembered as a “magical time.” When she returned to Memphis, she was reunited with “the SPARK,” now Airman Edwin Marberry. They married Oct. 24, 1958, in Memphis, TN. Their son, Steven David Marberry was born in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, on Oct. 31, 1961. While on assignment in Vietnam, Edwin became ill. He passed away in the Philippines with Martha by his side on Aug. 29, 1962; Steven was only 10 months old.
On the following Easter Sunday, 1963, Jane Soloman (there’s another story here) introduced Martha to Dr. Harvey Haywood Barham, who had lost his first wife, June, to an aneurysm on July 4, 1962. Haywood and June had three children: Donna, Mike, and Harvey.
After a whirlwind romance, Martha and H.H. were married and blended their families on June 9, 1963. They were happily married for 47 years until his death on Nov. 29, 2010. Following his death, Martha continued to be active and involved in her community through her membership and leadership in many different organizations including VBS, WMU, Meals on Wheels, and the Tuesday Literary Club. She was a legendary, long-time Sunday School teacher at Bolivar First Baptist Church, and she enjoyed presenting her lesson out loud to her family on Saturday afternoons and planning games and activities for her classes.
Martha was a dedicated Christian and always willingly shared with others her love for the Lord. She absolutely loved gospel music, singing loudly and every word to anyone listening (and many times by herself). Martha often said that although she didn’t have the greatest singing voice, she was world-renowned for her humming ability. She was also proud to name every book in the Bible from memory. Even in her final days, she quoted scripture and listened to her favorite hymns.
To her children, all six of them, she was perfect - an organizer for all, a great cook, attended every event she could, volunteered for every school opportunity including scouts, worked in First Baptist Daycare - the list could go on and on. She was dedicated to remembering EVERYONE’s birthday and sending a card. She especially loved Christmas and was determined to send everyone a Christmas card and/or a gift. In 1997, she published her memoirs to share with her family and friends. Martha was a remarkable, fun, creative and loving person, and she will be sorely missed.
Martha Ruth Keltner Marberry Barham was preceded in death by both her parents and by both of her dearly loved husbands, and by one son, Harvey Haywood Barham Jr. Although each loss brought immense grief into Martha’s life, she carried their memories in her heart every day.
Martha leaves behind a legacy built on love and cherished memories that will be forever treasured by those closest to her. In addition to her dear friends and students, Martha is survived by five children: Donna (Lloyd) Emmons of Smithville, TN, Mike (Laurie) Barham of Murfreesboro, TN, Steven Marberry of Halls, TN, Scott Barham of Savannah, TN, and Phillip Barham of Jackson, TN; one sister Elizabeth Andrews of Memphis, TN; one brother Lofton (Buddy) (Pat) Keltner of Byhalia, MS, and sisters-in-law Dorothy (Dot) (Jerry) Carr of Franklin, TN and Patty Kling of Rocklin, CA, and her many, much loved nieces and nephews.
In addition, Martha held a special place in her heart for all her ever-growing family of grandchildren and great grandchildren: Major Scott (Georgette) Emmons and children Atlas, Maximus and Ivor; Tyler (Ashley) Emmons; Adam (Cory) Barham and Addison; Amber (Adam) Fox and children Alton, Hudson, Mia and Willow; Abby (Bryan) Segraves; Kayla Marberry (Casey) Carroll; Daniel (Sarah) Barham and children, Charlotte and Beckett; Reagan (Carlye) Barham and Chandler; and Katherine (Joey) Smith.
Martha was a remarkable woman whose life touched so many hearts within her family and community. She will forever be remembered as a loving mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and friend to all those whose lives she brightened. Her memory will live on through the stories shared and the love that continues to be cherished by her surviving family and friends. May we all take comfort knowing she is in the hands of her Heavenly Father and lived her life as a faithful servant.
Martha’s Celebration of Life will be held at First Baptist Church, Bolivar, Tennessee, on Saturday, October 14, 2023. Visitation will be held from 11:00 am until the time of service at 1:00 pm. Please send all expressions of sympathy to Shackelford Funeral Directors, 109 Mecklinburg Dr., Bolivar, TN 38008.
At the family’s request, memorial contributions in her name may be made to Bolivar First Baptist Church, the Hardeman County Library, or the charity of the donor’s choice.