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Longtime Ashland activist Bryant dies

Marty Bryant, a pioneer in Ashland's efforts to end hunger, died Friday in his Wilsonville home after an extended battle with lung cancer.

An Air Force veteran and skilled rock and blues musician, Bryant in 1993 created Ashland's first free, public Thanksgiving dinner at the Ashland Armory. It soon led to the creation of Caring Friends, which served meals to the needy through 2006, when Bryant and his wife of 30 years, Sylvia, left to be with their daughter, Kayla, during her college years in Portland.

In a Mail Tribune interview last December, Bryant declined to give his age but said he was just short of Medicare age, which is 65. At that time, he had just had surgery for lung cancer, though he said he was a light smoker and hadn't smoked in 30 years.

"My dad passed away peacefully in his sleep Friday June 22 around 5 a.m.," noted Kayla, in a Facebook message to the Tribune. "We are having a private family wake on Thursday the 28th to celebrate his life. Ashland was so incredibly dear to his heart."

After his surgery, which removed a third of one lung, "we thought he had at least another year, but within two months he was just gone," Kayla wrote.

Before Ashland, the couple lived in Lake Tahoe, where Bryant was inspired to action by the plight of veterans and children going hungry. He started community meals there. In Ashland, he also started Uncle Food's Diner at Peace House. In Ashland in 2004, he started a restaurant at Ashland's north interchange that featured his noted ribs cuisine.

Caring Friends supplied food, clothing and furniture for 200 homes during the Ashland New Year's Day Floor of 1997, earning Bryant the James M. Ragland Ashland Volunteer Spirit Community Service Award.

"Marty was a man of vision, who had the confidence to set things in motion that benefit the community — and he was shrewd enough to surround himself with dedicated volunteers to help carry it out," said Judith Stevens of Jacksonville, the first president of Caring Friends, in the earlier Mail Tribune story.

"Food is not a privilege. Driving is a privilege. Food is a right," said Bryant, who at the time was working on a book about his work on concerts with the greats in blues, jazz and R&B, including Sarah Vaughan, Red Foxx and Smoky Robin.

He was road manager, producer and did other roles with James Brown, Sister Sledge and the Stylistics, writing the latter group's first gold song, "You're a Big Girl Now."

Kayla Bryant said condolences may be sent to their home, 26360 SW Canyon Creek Road, No. 203, Wilsonville, OR 97070.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Longtime Ashland activist Bryant dies