Ricardo C. Martinez, a senior economist with the D.C.-based Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for more than 20 years and a well-known figure in the gay communities of Washington and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., died August 15 at a hospice in Fort Lauderdale from complications associated with a stroke. He was 71.

Greg Kabel

Friends and colleagues note that he worked for years traveling extensively to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean on behalf of the IDB to assess and make recommendations on those countries’ needs for economic development loans.

The friends from Washington and the Fort Lauderdale-Miami area, where Martinez moved after taking early retirement at the age of 55, say his retirement enabled him to devote more time to his lifelong passion for the performing arts, especially opera.

“Sometimes he saw his own life in terms of the grand opera he so adored,” said George Jackson, one of his longtime Washington friends. Martinez was born and raised in Havana, Cuba. He told friends he completed high school there just as the uncertainty and turmoil that followed the assumption of power by Fidel Castro prompted many Cubans to flee to the U.S.

As an only child, he told friends his parents arranged for him to abruptly depart his homeland by himself and arrive in Miami in 1960 as part of the Catholic Church operated “Peter Pan” program, through which thousands of unaccompanied Cuban children and teenagers were dispatched to the U.S. in the early 1960s.

According to his friend Richard Poms, Martinez said his parents arrived in the U.S. the following year and the family settled in Northern Virginia. A short time later, Martinez began his studies in economics at Catholic University in D.C. through an academic scholarship.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in economics at Catholic University he studied economics on the graduate level at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

He taught courses in intermediate level macroeconomic theory and principles of economics and economic systems at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., from 1968 to 1970. He next joined the staff of the Brookings Institution in Washington as a research assistant from 1970 to 1974, according to his curriculum vitae.

Martinez began his tenure at the Inter-American Development Bank in 1974 as an economist with the bank’s Country Economic Division. He assumed the position of senior economist at the bank’s General Studies Division in 1981 and assumed additional responsibilities in 1989 as senior economist with the Country Economics Division.

As someone fluent in English and Spanish, he wrote over 40 chapters during his tenure at the IDB for the annual publication Economic and Social Progress in Latin America. Among the countries he visited and for which he made loan related assessments and recommendations were Barbados, Suriname, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico and Costa Rica.

Upon his retirement in 1998 Martinez moved from his longtime residence in Arlington, Va., to Miami Beach before settling later in Fort Lauderdale.

According to friends, he shared his passion for the opera with a longstanding interest in European history and the European nobility.

“He loved European nobility,” said Poms. “He was an expert on the kings and the queens going back all the way. He knew who was married to whom – what family this, what family that.”

Before and after retirement his love for opera prompted him travel to opera houses in the U.S. and Europe, including regular trips to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where he boasted of crossing paths and socializing with famed Metropolitan Opera conductor and music director James Levine at Manhattan nightspots after the performances.

“I remember his love for good cuisine and how he wouldn’t eat dinner until the sun had set,” said Tom Hardy, a friend from Washington. “He went to all the best restaurants, and he loved company and he loved to tell us about history and of course ancestry and the European monarchs.”

Martinez is predeceased by his parents, Ricardo, Sr., and Hilda Martinez, of Arlington, Va., and his longtime friend Jack Keegel of Washington.

He is survived by an uncle in Jacksonville, Fla., Orlando Acosta, a cousin in Los Angeles, and many friends in Washington and Fort Lauderdale, including Richard Poms, Richard Viola, Steven Frias Rodriquez, Tom Hardy, Carl Spier, Larry Smelser, George Jackson, David Cox, Emilio Cueto, and this reporter, among many others.

Poms said plans would be announced soon for memorial services in Fort Lauderdale and D.C. He said plans were being made for interment of Martinez’s ashes at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, Va., near the gravesite of his parents.

Reprinted with permission from the Washington Blade.