Martyn Roetter had just arrived at Logan Airport from a business trip in Montenegro in 2004 when he listened to a message that would change not only the course of his life, but also the direction that the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay would ultimately take.
His wife, Joyce, had called while Roetter was en route to tell him that after several months of searching, she had finally found their ideal new home in Back Bay – a 1,900 square-foot, two-bedroom condo that occupied the entire fourth floor of a Beacon Street townhouse in close proximity to the Public Garden – and that they had first dibs on it, since the property wasn’t scheduled to come on the market for another week.
After the youngest of their three children, Natasha, went off to college at Duke University in 2002, Roetter had willingly obliged to his wife’s wish that they leave Lexington to move into the city, and they had spent the previous months looking at condos in the Back Bay and South End, but to no avail up until this point.
The Roetters had settled in Lexington in 1983 – eight years after they married at the Lyman Estate in Waltham. Martyn, who was born in Scotland and raised in London before emigrating from the UK to the U.S. at age 25 on a work visa, met Joyce, a Massachusetts native and his future wife, in the early ‘70s when they were both working at the Cambridge offices of the international management consulting firm, Arthur D. Little.
In April of 2005, the Roetters moved into their new home on Beacon Street, which, Martyn said, immediately prompted them to think: “How do we meet people?”
And it was then that Martyn, who would go on to chair NABB for three years from September of 2017 until last month, first heard about the organization.
He and Joyce started off attending wine tastings and participating in wine-and-dine groups hosted by NABB, but Roetter said he didn’t become “seriously involved” in the organization until he learned of Fisher College’s plan in 2013 to substantially expand its base on Beacon Street – just one block away from his new home.
Roetter soon agreed to serve on NABB’s Executive Committee as his duties and responsibilities within the organization grew, but he said it still came as a surprise about four years ago when Vicki Smith, the organization’s chair at the time, asked him to succeed her in that role.
“It was very flattering, but I wasn’t expecting it,” Roetter said. “My first thoughts were: I haven’t been around all that long, and what does it entail?”
Roetter credits Howard Kassler, another former NABB chair who died last year at age 88, for ultimately convincing him to accept the offer.
“He said, ‘you have a lot to gain and nothing to lose, and you’ll learn an awful lot, if you take on this job,” Roetter recalled, “but obviously how much you learn is based on how much you put into it.”
Admittedly, Roetter said he had “some apprehension” because he didn’t know how he’d be received when he officially assumed the reins of NABB during the organization’s 62nd annual meeting in September of 2017 at the Algonquin Club.
“What I said then and at the first board meeting I chaired, which has come back to me in spades, is that the chair’s job is to set a tone to represent NABB to the outside world, and to get to know as many of the important things as possible,” he said.
Roetter has also made it a high priority to forge close relationships with the neighborhood’s elected officials, and he said, “We’ve been fortunate that they’ve been extremely helpful in particular circumstances we’ve come across.”
For instance, Roetter credits State Rep. Jay Livingstone for helping to draft the good-neighbor agreement when Hexagon Properties purchased the Algonquin Club two years ago.
Sen. William Brownsberger “pays a lot of attention to NABB,” as does State Rep. Jon Santiago, who, along with Rep. Livingstone, recently advised the group on how to navigate the process surrounding the state’s proposed sale of the Hynes Convention Center, Roetter said, while City Councilors Kenzie Bok and Ed Flynn also keep in close contact with the organization.
Moreover, first-term City Councilor Julia Mejia attended this year’s virtual NABB annual meeting at the group’s invitation, Roetter added, and City Councilor Michelle Wu was the guest speaker at its 2018 annual meeting.
“We have developed better and wider relationships with our elected officials over the last three years that I hope will keep us in good stead,” Roetter said.
During his time as chair, Roetter also worked to strengthen relations with ADCO (Alliance of Downtown Civic Organizations), as well as with other city neighborhoods.
“It’s very important to be connected not only with our immediate, adjacent neighbors, but also with other ones that have different priorities,” Roetter said.
Yet at the same time, affordable housing, climate change and homelessness have emerged as issues that impact not only Back Bay, but every neighborhood across the city.
“Our responsibility is to the neighborhood, and at the same time, the neighborhood isn’t immune to things going on in the wider world…so how do we balance it?” Roetter said.
Elliott Laffer, who replaced Roetter as chair of NABB during the group’s 65th annual meeting on Sept. 16, describes Roetter as a “deep thinker who worked very hard to expand NABB’s relationship with ADCO.”
“Martyn was involved in every significant issue that NABB has dealt with in the past three years in his role as chair,” Laffer said. “He also worked through the difficulties from COVID and remote meetings and all of that, and he took a leading role in our relationship with Fisher College, which is very important.”
And in the end, Laffer added: “Martyn took an organization that was in good shape and left it in better shape that he found it, which I think is what we all try to do.”
But even though Roetter has relinquished his seat as chair of the organization, don’t think for a minute that he is stepping away from NABB entirely.
“I’m not washing my hands of NABB,” Roetter said. “I’ll remain on executive committee and the board, and will be paying particular attention to our relationship with elected officials and other neighborhoods in the city.”