Local News

Chapel Hill Man Born Without Arms Dies in Car Accident

Posted November 12, 2007

— A Chapel Hill man, who gained national fame for flourishing in life despite being born without arms, died in a car accident on Monday, family friends said.

Marty Ravellette, 67, was driving a van west on Greensboro-Chapel Hill Road near Snow Camp, south of Burlington in Alamance County, around 10:15 a.m. His wife, Maree, was a passenger.

Troopers said Ravellette failed to yield at the intersection with N.C. Highway 87, and an oncoming truck carrying logs hit his van head-on.

Ravellette was ejected from his vehicle. He was airlifted to UNC Hospitals, where he later died, troopers said. Family friends said Marty Ravellette could not wear a seat belt due to his disability.

Maree Ravellette was wearing a seat belt and was at home recovering later Monday.

Marty Ravellette spent 16 years in an orphanage, because his parents could not handle his disability. But Ravellette proved that he could. Using his feet, he could drive, eat out – and even operate a chain saw.

"I wouldn't be who I am if I did have them (his arms)," he told WRAL's Scott Mason in September. "I am what I am today, because I don't have arms. And I like who I am."

In 1998, he pulled a woman from a burning car on U.S. 15-501 in Durham. The Discovery Channel aired a documentary about him in 2004.

Ravellette had a driver's license but said police officers pulled him over many times.

"They thought I was some punk kid with his foot up on the steering wheel joy-riding. When they realized I didn't have any arms and I had a valid driver's license, they let it alone," he said.

Ravellette told WRAL in September that he hoped his life experience could teach others to be more tolerant of differences.

"I think the lesson is that we need to learn to accept people as human beings," he said.

Ravellette owned a landscaping business in Chapel Hill and was a regular at Sutton's Drug Store.

He is survived by his wife Maree and an adult daughter from a previous marriage. The family was still making funeral arrangements on Monday night.


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  • ncguy Nov 13, 2007

    I just saw him a couple of weeks ago at Hardees. I always admired him. We as a society should all learn from him.

    I bet he shook St Peters hand and got some wings too...

    God Bless his wife and daughter.

  • law-2-tech Nov 13, 2007

    This is truly odd - it wasn't more than two weeks ago he was featured on tv, showing his skills at driving and doing other things. Now this...When I read the caption I was thinking it couldn't be that old guy from tv. May the family have peace and thank God there were no other injuries.

  • earthmama Nov 13, 2007

    I remember seeing Marty for the first time 20 years ago in Chapel Hill, driving in an old van with his feet. Awestruck...me. Awesome..Marty. I wish that we could bring Marty back and trade in all the members of the Phelps family (the nuts who protest at the funerals of soldiers). Peace to Marty's wife.

  • pleshy Nov 13, 2007

    Skepticghoul - I hold no resentment toward any person living with a handicap. I was merely commenting that, despite the good feeling we all get seeing someone overcome that handicap, maybe it isn't the best idea to give a man with no arms a permit to operate an object that has at least 3 seperate controls. Also, I find it ironic that many of the same people commenting here on how fabulous it was to see Marty drive are the same people who don't want me, a "lesser" individual with 4 fully functional appendages, to talk on the phone and drive.

  • davido Nov 13, 2007

    If we can touch half as many people as Marty did just by living his life, we will have accomplished much.

    Peace to you, Marty, and the rest of you also.

  • Chplhill Nov 13, 2007

    This was a good guy, and who didn't take anything off anyone...and a good fisherman too. He truly LIVED his life. I used to see him at Sutton's drug store eating all the time, and became acquainted with him. He was a fixture in Chapel Hill, and will be sorely missed. He wasn't a saint by any means, but was definitely a quiet inspiration to a lot of people.

  • schit Nov 13, 2007

    This is so sad. I just spoke to him about 2 weeks ago out in front of Bank of America in Carrboro. I nevermet him in person until that day. We spoke of how he overcame societies prejudices and his handicap. In his eyes he was never handicap and I applaud him for that. I will never get out of my mind how he spoke of his family and his grand kids. He spoke highly of those he came in contact with daily. He will be greatly missed by so many of us.

  • Iron Man Nov 13, 2007

    It's amazing what people with disabilities can do. My brother-in-law was a manager for the US Government Accounting Office and had a female employee that did not have hands, but could type with her toes. We have a late teen or early twenty year old with spina-befida(not correct spelling) who lectors at church and he is one of the best lectors.

  • ncjosh Nov 13, 2007

    Pleshy - this is huge because Marty was huge. He was huge in life and huge to the people that knew him and knew of him. His accomplishments were worthy to be written about and filmed by well-respected organizations.

    It is not complicated... he was huge, just not to you or anyone else that was never lucky enough to have been in his presence. I never spoke one word to this man and never sat next to him at breakfast. But I was humbled every single time I saw him.

  • ScreenNameNotInUse Nov 13, 2007

    Years ago I was on US15/501 waiting through two light cycles when I noticed Mr.Ravellette finishing up a job. I watched him push his lawnmower to his van, load it, secure it, and then climb in the van and drive off using his feet to steer. He does not know it, but his witness changed my attitude that day and my life. I grew up with problems, but upon seeing him do what he did without the aid of arms, I quit feeling sorry for myself. I have been the better man for it ever since. This world needs more men like Marty Ravellette.