Campus News

UGA alumni come together to give back

Knox Martin graduated from the University of Georgia in May 2020 with a degree in forest resources. He passed away in December 2020.

Knox Martin Foundation supports memory of UGA alumnus, funds cancer research

Knox Martin spent his life inspiring others. Now, his legacy fuels brain cancer research.

In September 2017, Martin was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. Even with this diagnosis, as well as numerous surgeries and treatments, he continued his studies at the University of Georgia.

Knox Martin and friends on a UGA study abroad trip in Innsbruck. (Submitted photo).

“Knox would fly out to Los Angeles for treatments then fly right back to school to take a test,” said Riley Martin, Knox’s younger brother. “He was doing everything in his power to make sure he finished strong with his degree because he knew he could do it.”

Knox graduated in 2020 and, only a few months later, passed away after fighting cancer for three years. He was 24.

Embracing Knox’s enthusiasm and spirit, his friends and family created the Knox Martin Foundation.

A foundation of Dawgs

Established in 2021, KMF aims to fund innovative research and expand treatment options for glioblastoma. The foundation wants to provide families with hope, and eventually create a world where this disease is curable.

And a lot of it got started thanks to ties to Athens and the University of Georgia.

Every member of the foundation’s executive board and board of directors has a degree from UGA. The foundation is led by Knox’s mother Becky Martin (AB ’91), president and chief executive officer, and the executive board includes classmates, family and fraternity brothers from Knox’s involvement in Greek Life on campus.

Members of the Knox Martin Foundation Board of Directors at Night for Knox, the foundation’s biggest annual fundraiser, in April 2024. All board members are UGA graduates. (Submitted photo).

“We are a Dawg foundation through and through, and the UGA community is one of our biggest supporters,” said Riley, the KMF historian and two-time UGA graduate (BLA ’21, MLA ’23). “We love UGA, we love everything that it stands for, and we’re incredibly proud of our ties to the university.”

UGA also brought Madison Letts, KMF’s chief operating officer, and Knox together. They met and started dating as undergraduate students, and Knox received his diagnosis a year into their relationship. While his treatment and death were times of immense grief, Letts said support from friends, family and community inspired her to channel that grief into action.

In addition to writing a book about her experience and detailing Knox’s verve for life, Letts works full time for the foundation. She was nervous about the endeavor at first, but said she is thankful she overcame those nerves.

Madison Letts and Knox Martin at a UGA football game. (Submitted photo).

“I thought, ‘Well, people always start nonprofits or foundations in their grief because we all want something to do,’ but I was nervous to commit a lot of my time and energy towards this,” said Letts (BFA ’19). “Fast-forward to today, and I’m absolutely blown away by how quickly we’ve grown.”

Over the last three years, the foundation has developed—and fundraised—steadily to back clinical trials, enhance research and more. It has given nearly $1 million for brain cancer research, funding three clinical trials and supporting salaries for postdoctoral scientists, research technicians and clinical trial coordinators as well as lab equipment.

“It’s phenomenal to go from a group of friends and family who just want to make a difference to actually being able to make a difference for somebody else’s older brother or somebody else’s son who is dealing with the exact same disease,” Riley said.

Expanding efforts

In the last year and a half, the foundation has expanded even further. Through networking opportunities and events, KMF has reached new supporters, established new events and opened new chapters, including one on UGA’s campus.

UGA students at a “Girls Day Out” fundraiser for the Knox Martin Foundation. (Submitted photo)

Camille Holcomb (BSFCS ’24) is a family friend of the Martins and started the KMF student chapter in 2023. She was inspired to get involved after hearing Becky Martin and Madison share the foundation’s story. Following her mother’s cancer diagnosis, Holcomb felt drawn to make a difference.

“I know what it’s like to be on that last glimpse of hope, going through clinical trials,” she said. “Seeing our community support my mom was really inspiring, so when I learned about Knox and his story, I wanted to get involved however I could.”

Even though she did not personally know Knox, educating others through fundraisers and speaking events while providing hope for better research was one of the most impactful parts of her college career, she said.

“I’ve seen so many fun videos of Knox and his friends, and even when he was really sick, he never let that stop him,” she said. “That’s a really important message to share.”

The drive to live every day to its fullest was a core part of Knox’s personality, and KMF keeps it at the core of its mission. They also focus on connection and community, Letts said, and it has helped support their continued growth.

In addition to two annual fundraisers, which have brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, KMF remains dedicated to small community events. Through dinners at supporters’ houses and informal information sessions, the foundation shares Knox’s story without any financial expectations.

“It’s just a great example of how Knox has been embodied in our organization,” Letts said. “We want to get to know people. We connect with people who never knew Knox and maybe never knew the Martin family, but they’ve had a light bulb moment when we talk to them, and they want to give back as well.”