To have a conversation with Angel Martín about his remarkable journey from Puerto Rico to Wharton and beyond is like hearing a history book come to life in vivid detail. At 103, Martín is believed to be the School’s oldest living alumnus. In addition to his undergraduate and MBA degrees, he holds the distinctions of being a World War II veteran, an attorney, a former secretary of treasury, and a former associate justice on Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court. Martín spoke from his home in San Juan about his childhood entrepreneurial spirit, the many twists and turns of his career, and his secrets for longevity and happiness.
I worked for my father’s business in Old San Juan — office and school supplies — from the first grade until I went to Wharton. I was also the only stamp dealer on the island. I had a counter at my father’s store at 12 years old.
My father knew a paper wholesaler in New York and told him I wanted to study business. He said his two sons were at a wonderful school in Philadelphia. I applied to Wharton and was accepted, and it marked an exciting milestone in my life.
I was in ROTC and was activated in 1940, a few months after I graduated from Wharton. They sent me to Fort Benning for officer school, and a few weeks later, I was in charge of a platoon.
A few weeks after that, they were hiring a military aide to the governor of Puerto Rico, Rexford G. Tugwell, a Wharton alumnus and former professor. He was a great man. I interviewed, and they called the general and said, “We have our man.” I couldn’t believe it.
Eleanor Roosevelt visited Puerto Rico, and I was assigned to her for three days. It was an honor — she showed a genuine concern for Puerto Rican affairs. Tugwell was very close to her and FDR.
When I finished with the governor, I had my master’s in insurance; professor Solomon Huebner was my hero in postgraduate. Coffee was the second largest industry in Puerto Rico, and I was named CEO of the Public Coffee Insurance Corporation.
I opened a branch office for a New York Stock Exchange firm here. It was exciting, but I was dreaming about law school. I earned a degree from Tulane and practiced for 18 years.
If it hadn’t been for my wife Carmen and her guidance and love and support, I wouldn’t have led the life I did. She gave me 64 years of marriage and four children, of whom I am proud.
I became Puerto Rico’s secretary of treasury in 1970. After two years, I was appointed to the Supreme Court. As secretary, I’d begun an investigation of the tax system. But I could not refuse a position of distinction in the judiciary.
I have advised my children to always stand on the side of the truth. The most they can leave for their children is character.
The secret to a long life is just that — a secret. No one really understands it or can pass it on. Some factors that have helped me: liberty, integrity, adaptability, humor, good friends, walks on the beach, healthy eating, and a glass of wine a day. Or two!
Am I connected to everyone in Puerto Rico? At one time, I was.
My grandson, Gabriel Martín, has a bachelor’s degree from Penn. I took him there when he was 10. He said, “Grandpa, I want to come here one day.” And he did.
If I could go back, I wouldn’t mind repeating the life I’ve had. I’ve had a happy life.
Published as “Angel Martín W39 WG40” in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of Wharton Magazine.