Martin de Jesus Flores in front of the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-op on December 4, 2021. Ryan Caron King Photo.
Martin de Jesus Flores loved a good nickname, and a good leather jacket. At home and among his friends, he was Lightning McQueen, with a quick wit and knack for people. To his little brother Peter, he was Batman in need of his Robin. At the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-Op, he was forever volunteer of the month, with a sweet, easy smile that set the whole block aglow.
He was a best friend who often felt like a brother, and a brother who often felt like a best friend. When he smiled—which he did often—you knew that everything was going to be okay.
That is how family members, friends, bike enthusiasts, and professors are remembering Flores, a University of New Haven graduate student and star volunteer at the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-Op who died suddenly on Friday, following a fall at West Rock Ridge State Park. In the days since his death, over a dozen friends and relatives have painted a portrait of a gentle and welcoming spirit, whose capacity for kindness and service was matched only by a sweet, sometimes goofy wit.
He had just turned 25 on Feb. 16, a birthday that he shared with his younger brother Peter. A memorial service is planned at the University of New Haven on Thursday afternoon, at 3:30 p.m. at the Beckerman Recreation Center. The family has set up a website for photos and memories here.
“He loved making people laugh,” said his older sister, Joanna Flores, in a phone call Sunday night. “I can’t quite sit with a memory long enough to retell it, but I keep thinking about how much he smiled. He just emanated this almost annoying charisma that you kind of had to laugh with, because it made you feel good too.”
“Martin is just someone who showed up,” said Bradley Street Bike Co-Op Founder John Martin, who met Flores after he moved to New Haven for graduate school, and remained close with him after stepping back from the Co-Op last year. “You needed him, he would show up. He just wanted to make people feel safe, wanted to make people feel welcome. He was better than all of us in that way.”
Photo courtesy of the Flores Family.
Flores’ life, which stretched from Connecticut to California and back, began in New Haven in the 1990s as the child of Filipino immigrants. His father, Jonathan Flores, is a nurse; his mother, Grace Flores, is a child psychiatrist. In addition to his sister Joanna, he was the adoring older brother to Katharine Grace, with whom he was only one year apart, and Peter, who is exactly five years younger.
Over three different phone calls with the Arts Paper, all of them described him as the family’s rock, always there with his heart, eyes, and arms wide open.
As a child, “he was so curious and so active,” Grace remembered in a phone call Tuesday afternoon. On walks, she would hold the girls and entrust Martin to her husband, who held him tightly as he tried to free himself from his parents’ grip and explore the world around him. It was a precociousness that later led him to found a small business, and explore the globe on trips to Corsica and Machu Picchu.
In those first few years, the family moved frequently for Grace’s medical training, first to the Bronx in New York, then to Stanford, then to Wilton, California, a country town on the edge of Sacramento where the population is just over 5,000. There, the family was able to purchase a farm where their four children could grow up on five acres of land.
It was the kind of place where kids had the space to play, with a rainwater-fed pond, weeping willow, wild animals, and walnut trees that yielded a harvest each year. Around them, Wilton was a quiet town, with a post office, a church, two general stores, a small school and a secondhand shop. “It’s country,” said Victoria Olsen, a neighbor who called Flores her third son, and is so close with the Flores’s she considers them family.
“It was this really great community to grow up in,” remembered Joanna in a phone call Sunday night. When the Flores’ bought it, the farm came with chickens, ducks and wild quails that delighted the children. There were goats that Martin and Peter were especially fond of, and later four stray dogs that Flores took responsibility for training.
While he loved all of them, he had an especially soft spot for a Chihuahua that he named Tabasco Biscuit, and later a pitbull mix named Bucko. The other two, an Aussie mix named Ginger Rogers and Husky named Rusty, died after years in his tender care. “[They] have gone to heaven and I hope they are giving him kisses,” Olsen said in an email Monday.
Martin Flores helps volunteers work on bikes at the Bradley Street Bike Co-op in August 2022. John Martin Photo.
As a kid, Flores flourished in the classroom, at church and in his extracurriculars, with a skill for people and service that seemed effortless to his three siblings. At home, he developed an early love for marine biology, and would spend hours by the pond, wading carefully into the water just to observe the ecosystem beneath the surface. “He taught me to be in tune with nature,” said Katharine, now a teacher in Oakland. “Just to be present with what was there.”
He was also fiercely protective, with a love for his siblings and family that later radiated all the way across the country. When Peter was in elementary school, “I was a skinny kid,” and occasionally got picked on by his classmates, he remembered Sunday. “If someone was messing with me, Martin would always be there.” True to form, Flores’ only school suspension came from a fight on the school bus, after he hit a boy who’d been harassing his friend.
Years later, he used that loyalty to fuel an interest in service, spending summers as a camp counselor at the family’s church and a volunteer in California’s special olympics. His siblings looked up to him, often taking cues from their brother as he moved through the world.
Flores was also constantly in motion. Outside of school, he “played every sport,” Peter remembered. After discovering fencing through their father, Flores was particularly eager to share it with his brother, in a practice they continued through high school. In years of fencing classes, the two were able to bond beyond their conversations at home, where they could rarely keep secrets from each other in their shared bedroom.
For Flores, it was one of the only spaces where he had to slow down, and focus completely on the task at hand. It was one of the things that so tied him to his love for the Cars character Lightning McQueen, whose own path to self-discovery required slowing down and taking stock of his surroundings.
“I love the blend of independence and team building that exist within the sport,” he told reporter Ayalew Lidete in 2019, while fencing in college. “When you're fencing off, it's just you and your opponent, but the moments that build to that moment require a team.”
“I would describe us as the dynamic duo, Batman and Robin,” Peter said, remembering a car ride on which Martin convinced his parents to take them for ice cream, because he knew that Peter wanted it. “He was always Batman. He always knew what to do. He always had a plan. In every circumstance, he was always prepared. I’m a little bit more … I like to have fun, improvise, be somewhat prepared. We just went back and forth on that.”
Flores with Hunter McCoin and Eric Olsen. Photo Contributed by Hunter McCoin.
Flores was Batman to so many of the people close to him. While Wilton was a rural community, Flores made and kept friends, often holding them very close. When Olsen and her family moved there 17 years ago, her son Eric became fast friends with Flores. By high school, the two were building a small car detailing business out of his family’s barn.
As they grew White Barn Detailing, the two split responsibilities, learning how to charge for their labor as they worked on car after car. In six years and dozens of negotiations, Victoria Olsen said, she can’t remember a single fight between them. Instead, they were two young entrepreneurs, ready to take on the world.
For Victoria Olsen, he was an additional son. In an email Monday afternoon, she recalled how naturally Flores fit into her family’s rhythms, weaving himself into even daily chores at her home without ever being asked. When Eric called her with the news last Friday, she couldn’t comprehend what she was hearing on the other end of the phone.
“I can’t even remember my home without him in it,” she said. “Martin was so incredibly smart, full of common sense, and so hardworking … He was my third child in every way.”
Hunter McCoin, who met Flores in middle school, remembered the space under a different name: Martin’s Barn. Even as White Barn Detailing grew, Flores and Peter made it into a hangout spot, where they and their friends could watch movies, play poker, celebrate Friendsgivings, and gather when school was out on the holidays. In hard times, McCoin said, the barn became “a haven,” where Flores’ friends knew they could come to vent about a parent’s divorce or particularly hard week at school.
Flores, who had his own struggles with depression in high school, held space for them through all of it. His friends often joked that he was like James Bond, McCoin said—immaculately put together and calm under pressure while “the rest of us would typically be in dirty jeans and sweatshirts.” Last fall, when McCoin walked down the aisle, Flores was the only person he trusted with the wedding rings. That night, Flores raised a glass to their future.
“The way in which Martin’s Barn became a constant for our group was also a characteristic of Martin: he was consistent,” he wrote in an email Monday afternoon. “From the day I met him through today, he was always the same friendly, courteous, funny, and stylish guy.”
Martin Flores on a bicycle ride along the Connecticut shoreline on August 14, 2022. Elise Granata Photo.
When he left for Saint Mary’s College of California, Flores kept investing in those friendships. At school, he worked hard, pushing himself in his studies as he joined the school’s fencing club. “He had to put in effort there to make it and get the cum laude,” Grace remembered on Tuesday. And he did, ultimately graduating remotely in the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was during those first few years away from home that he also grew into himself, Katharine said—and that he fell in love with the biking and bike culture in which he found community in New Haven. When his parents gave him a bike to discover the small town around Saint Mary’s “it gave him a sense of freedom,” Katharine said.
Flores’ dedication trickled over to everything he did on campus. In the dorms, he taught his roommate to cook, using skills he’d once employed as his mother’s faithful taste tester at home (his parents and three siblings all described him as the “grill master,” with a special talent for steak). When he joined the school’s fencing club his freshman or sophomore year, he challenged everyone to get better because he was there.
Greg Peterson, who was the club’s president at the time, remembered the panache with which Flores would burst through the gym’s double doors, announcing his presence. As they became friends, Peterson learned that Flores contained multitudes, as kind and charming as he was talented in his fencing bouts. He was wise beyond his years, Peterson said—sometimes so much so that he would invite him out to bars, then remember he wasn’t old enough to drink.
In the years after college, they remained close, living together for a period in San Francisco. Among his friends, Flores was quirky, with a love for made-up words that became their own private, offbeat kind of vocabulary. He had a special talent to make any piece of music into a country song, and then could just as quickly get serious, and create space for a hard conversation or advice. While he is two years older, Peterson said, he often called Flores to see what he would do in a given situation.
Peterson’s fiancée, Juli Jugan, also remembered him as a dedicated friend, who could be funny and upbeat, then collect himself and listen closely if a friend needed a confidant. While the two met through Peterson, they became close through their own interest in science, and Flores’ bubbly personality. Even after college, they stayed in touch frequently, particularly as the pandemic sent social interactions online.
Laughing, Jugan remembered how Flores was her go-to person to call “when there was anything wrong with my car,” even after the two lived across the country from each other. She could so much as mimic a sound her car was making, and Flores would immediately know what part needed fixing.
She remembered seeing him in his element just months into the first wave of Covid-19, when he invited a few friends to a drive-thru movie night at the farm in Wilton. Beside the barn, Grace Flores had laid out a spread of food; friends socially distanced even outside. It was the first time many of them had seen each other in months.
“It was a really intense time,” she remembered—and yet, they were able to laugh together. Last fall, she and Peterson had the chance to visit Flores in New York. They spent the day in Central Park, then ate their weight in Korean Barbecue before saying goodbye for the night. Now, Peterson said, he’s so grateful for the time they had together.
“He Put Himself In Your Life”
John Martin and Martin Flores in 2021. John Martin Photo.
In the summer of 2021, Flores moved across the country for graduate school at the University of New Haven, where he was studying Industrial Organizational Psychology. Initially, Joanna remembered, he didn’t like being back in Connecticut. Despite extended family in Danbury, where he often went for dinner, he worried that moving had been a mistake. He was in touch frequently with his sisters, questioning this new home.
“He was like, ‘I’m not made out for this,’” Joanna remembered him telling her in the first months he was there. Most of his friends still lived across the country in the Bay Area. He didn’t even own a winter coat. And at least at first, New Haven seemed like a coffee desert.
Then he discovered the Bradley Street Bike Co-Op, a tight-knit community of tinkerers, safe streets advocates, and bike enthusiasts nestled in New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood. Kyle Anthony, who now works as the shop manager, remembered meeting Flores in August of 2021, when he came in looking for a bike. Flores was still new to New Haven, and immediately took to the space. Before he left, he asked about volunteer opportunities.
It seemed like a normal request at the time: the Co-Op relies on a rotating door of volunteers to stay open. Then Flores started showing up every day, willing to jump in wherever he was needed. BSBC Founder John Martin, who managed the shop at the time, remembered feeling awed by this young superstar volunteer, who learned the name of every person who walked through the door.
“He was one of those special people who was just tireless in his ability to make people feel welcome,” Martin said in a phone call Saturday. “It’s kind of a hectic, chaotic space at times. And Martin would just beat us all to saying hi to the same person.”
At the Co-Op, Flores became part of the community’s wildly beating heart, with what seemed like an endless capacity for care. During shop hours, he was sometimes the first one to the space, ready to fix a bike one day, sell a bike the next, and scurry up to the building’s roof and plug a leak the day after that. If there was something he didn’t know how to do, he learned.
Anthony remembered watching as he moved from one task to the next, as interested in the people in the Co-Op as the bikes they’d brought with them. He learned the story of each member and customer, soaking up their anecdotes like a sponge. Even when the shop was hectic, he remained cool, working methodically until every need had been met. He exuded calm, moving through the space in a leather jacket that he wore even when the temperature dipped below freezing.
“He put himself in your life, and he learned about you,” Anthony said. “He carried so much knowledge about people’s comings and goings. It was just like he knew everything about everyone, and used it positively. Normal people, compassionate people, they don’t have the capacity to give in the way he gave.”
"Coffee Inside," held when the rain was too heavy for coffee outside. Maria Jiang Photo.
Just when it seemed Flores couldn’t take another thing on, he would. Last fall, he took over the Co-Op’s weekly “Coffee Outside” program, a Friday morning ride to the top of East Rock that could turn into an hours-long hangout with the right people. Without fail, Flores was ready to ride each Friday, with a jam jar of coffee that sometimes sloshed on the way to the top. Both Martin and Anthony remembered how doggedly he kept the rides going, even on days that started with rain and subzero temperatures.
Aiden Mock, who often went on those rides, remembered meeting Flores eight months ago, the first time he walked into the Co-Op. A student at the Yale School of the Environment, he came in looking for a bike. Flores sold him a fixer-upper, in what the two later joked was a honeypot scheme to get him to return to the Co-Op. It worked: Mock became a steady presence at the shop, and Flores taught him how to fix his bike.
“His first love language was service, and another love language is nagging,” Mock said in a phone call Sunday. He often teased Mock—gently—for not knowing what to do, “and then he would come over and help.” When Mock held a Lunar New Year party at his home earlier this year, he was tickled to see Flores show up. That’s just what he did, Mock said: he was there if you called.
Maria Jiang, a graduate student at the Yale School of Management and the Yale School of the Environment, remembered him as the Co-Op’s most vocal and most reliable cheerleader. It wasn’t just that he supported the work of other Co-Op folks: he made their business his business.
When Jiang started a podcast project, Flores listened—and then told his friends to listen too. When a fellow member wrote a book about religion and the climate crisis, Flores bought a copy for his mom, a devout Catholic whose faith he shared. Not infrequently, she’d wake up to voice memos from Flores, who recorded his dreams on a signal chat that members shared. When Jiang needed help building her first bike, she knew exactly who to go to. "Anytime I felt frustrated with something, he was always there next to me," she said
“It feels funny to pull out any particular memory because his presence in a sense was just so quotidian,” said Co-Op mechanic James O’Donnell in a phone call Sunday. “He was just there.”
That Flores was also evolving as he poured into other people was not lost on his friends or his family. In a phone call Sunday, Joanna Flores recalled how proud she felt to know her younger brother was thriving in New Haven. In recent weeks, he talked about staying in the city after graduate school, from which he was set to graduate in June.
“I think one thing about him that I’m only realizing now is how much he was growing and pushing himself to grow into himself,” O’Donnell said. “I think he just felt so comfortable and loved that he could just push himself to be who he was. He was just becoming more incredible every day. He made it seem effortless.”
“A Void That’s Not Gonna Be Filled”
Martin Flores works with volunteers helping with the installation of the Mulberry Jam park on Bradley Street in October 2022. John Martin Photo.
Flores was also beloved on campus and in New Haven, where he endeared himself to baristas, bookstore owners, and fellow students in a supernova of goodwill. Lauren Anderson, who owns Possible Futures Bookshop on Edgewood Avenue, remembered watching him ride by on his bike, sometimes stopping to check in on the bookstore dog, Sugar, and visit the store. A love for coffee sent him on a trip to different New Haven cafes, where he learned baristas’ names and dreamed up titles for drinks.
As snow began to fall Monday night, Professor Maurice (Mo) Cayer remembered meeting Flores last fall, when he walked into Cayer’s class “Psychological Testing and Measurements” for the first time. Among dozens of students, Flores stood out. It was more than his engagement in the material, Cayer said—it was that he so clearly wanted to be in class, and to interact with his peers.
“He had this wonderful sense of humor,” he said. “He would kid people, he would make up names, but he would kid in a very loving, caring way, where you know that the people that are interacting with you care about you, He was like a multiplier. Whatever he did got multiplied.”
If Cayer heard giggling when he was writing on the board, he knew it was Flores—and that whatever had been said was still tender. He was thrilled when Flores signed up for two more classes with him, including a smaller upper-level seminar, this semester. The last time they saw each other was Thursday night, as Cayer began a unit titled “Investing In People.” On Friday, he turned in assignments before biking to West Rock.
His final days in New Haven were filled with the things and people he loved. Days before his 25th birthday, Flores jotted down a postcard to his brother, wishing him a happy 20th year and signing off as Lightning McQueen. The week of the 16th, Anthony organized a surprise party that Flores talked about for days, trying to track down every attendee who had helped make it happen.
He showed up at the Co-Op for volunteer shifts, then made sure he was in class for lessons on talent management and resource allocation. Two weeks ago, when members were on a bike ride after dusk, he taught a flat repair clinic in real-time, illuminated by the light of members’ cell phones as he fixed a tire on the side of the road.
Last Friday morning, he sent out a text for coffee outside, just as he did every Friday. The weather was crisp, damp: only a few people showed up. Mock was one of them. Just like every week, they raced the final 500 meters to the top of the rock. Just like every week, Flores won. Mock remembered coasting back down to the base of East Rock—a descent that Flores loved—then parting ways at Atticus Market.
His fall, an accident, came hours later during a sunset ride at West Rock Ridge State Park. In his absence, friends and family are struggling to make sense of a world without him.
Walking around East Rock on Sunday, Co-Op member Amartya De said he hopes to carry on Flores’ legacy through service. A professor of photography at University of New Haven, De remembered how interested Flores was in helping him build a track bike. As they got to know each other, “he [Flores] was the reason to go to coffee outside.”
He was loved by members—and loved them back.
“That’s a void that’s not gonna be filled,” De said Sunday. Instead, he sees it as a call to serve as Flores served. “His work ethic was just so strong,” he said.
“He did what he loved the most, which was helping people,” Peter said Sunday. “And just because he’s gone doesn’t mean his mission is over. As a community, we should do what he did and more.”
A funeral mass for Martin de Jesus Flores is planned for Thursday March 2 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Peter Church in Danbury, Conn. A memorial service is planned at the University of New Haven on Thursday afternoon, at 3:30 p.m. at the Beckerman Recreation Center. The Flores family has set up a memorial website here where you can share memories and photographs.