TAPS – Col. Thomas Blythe Gentry ’44
Col. Tom Gentry ’44
LEXINGTON, Va., Oct. 8, 2012 – Col. Tom Gentry ’44, passed away peacefully on Oct. 5, 2012. He was laid to rest in a private graveside service earlier today.
Born in 1922, Col. Gentry first came to VMI as a cadet in 1940. After leaving the school early to serve in the Army in World War II and completing his bachelor of arts degree at Centre College in his home town of Danville, Ky., Col. Gentry eventually returned to VMI as a faculty member in 1948.
Although his dissertation was on the 17th-century playwright John Webster, Col. Gentry was best known to cadets as a teacher of Milton and classical music. Generations of students remember being moved by his reading of the final lines of Paradise Lost. Many became English majors because of that inspiration. Some have gone on to become English professors themselves. More have taken lifelong solace from the love of literature he inspired.
The radio broadcasts of live performances from the Metropolitan Opera were a favorite diversion on a Saturday afternoon in barracks during his time as a student, and as a professor Col. Gentry conveyed that same love of music to innumerable cadets. Though he was largely self-taught, his knowledge of the whole range of the Western classical canon was encyclopedic. He created the Introduction to Music course and was the natural choice to be the first adviser to the Timmins Music Society in 1953. Soon after its formation, Col. Gentry began taking cadets to New York for a four-day weekend that included an opera at the Met and a concert by the New York Philharmonic. Over the years, this trip became one of the most formative experiences for VMI cadets. Col. Gentry led the annual trip for over 40 years. On his retirement in 1998, with the generous approval of the Timmins family, the name of the club was changed to the Timmins-Gentry Music Society in honor of his 50 years of service to his alma mater.
Col. Gentry’s greatest passion was for inspiring his students. He developed enduring relationships with his alumni and seemed to remember the names of every cadet he ever taught. One of them recently commemorated Col. Gentry with the words Milton used to invoke his Muse: every cadet he ever taught could say to Col. Gentry “What in me is dark Illumine, what is low raise and support.” So he did.
Col. Gentry is survived by his daughters, Louise Brennan and Margaret Clegg; their husbands, Bruce Brennan and Eric Clegg; and four grandchildren, Kathleen, Blythe, Beth, and Thomas. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Garth Newel Music Center (http://www.garthnewel.org), the Duke Lemur Center (http://lemur.duke.edu/), and the ACLU (https://www.aclu.org).