John Martin, 82, a 53-year veteran of the National Symphony Orchestra who retired in 1994 as principal cellist, died Nov. 15 at Community Hospice of Washington. He had cancer.
Mr. Martin was the son of an Army bandmaster and began his musical training as a violinist. He soon switched to cello, played in his family's quartet and joined the NSO in 1941, when he was 18.
He studied under Howard Mitchell -- the orchestra's first cellist and later its music director -- and served as principal cellist from 1948 until his retirement.
Mr. Martin was known for his acerbic asides, many of which he got away with because of his seniority. To a conductor, he might ask, "Are you following me, or am I following you?" To his peers, he advised, "Never give up the opportunities to control the tempo."
Upon Mr. Martin's retirement, conductor and fellow cellist Mstislav Rostropovich completed a musical tribute by calling Mr. Martin an exemplary leader of one of the greatest cello sections in the world -- "outside of Russia, of course."
Mr. Martin replied, "It's very painful to hear all this."
John Sawyer Martin Jr. was born in Washington and raised around the country, but mostly in Wyoming and Brooklyn, N.Y.
He was an Army Air Forces veteran of World War II and attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, studying under cellist Gregor Piatigorsky before rejoining the NSO in 1947.
At home, Mr. Martin built a double kayak and a small sailboat.
Survivors include his wife of 58 years, Betsy Seitz Martin of Washington; three children, John Martin III of Silver Spring, Dr. Alison Martin of Washington and Catherine Rivers of Indiantown, Fla.; two brothers, Hugh Martin of Front Royal and Alan Martin of Closter, N.J.; seven grandchildren; and two great-granddaughters.