Musicians, friends remember Wilbur Grant with laughter
GLENVAR – Wilbur Grant’s saxophone stood in the spotlight, but he wasn’t there in person. And yet, Glenvar High School’s first band director was even larger than life during an afternoon of “Wilbur stories” at the June 16 celebration of his life in the high school’s auditorium.
There was music, laughter, and memories, lots and lots of memories of Grant, who died on June 13 at age 73 the way he wanted, relatively quickly after a couple of heart attacks.
And between friends’ comments at the service, people in the almost-full high school auditorium rose and sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the avid Red Sox fan. At the Salem Red Sox game the night after he died, the game began with a moment of silence for Grant. His regular seat was in the front row behind the Salem Red Sox dugout.
The song was part of a pact between Grant and one of his best friends, Roanoke Valley Community Band member Susan Schlossberg. She called herself, “the other woman in his life.” He was married three times, was the father of daughters DeeDee Parker of Chesapeake and Deb Grant-Marsh of Boston, grandfather of two and kept company with “his girl,” Linda Lemon of Salem.
Grant was only 12 when he began playing saxophone and clarinet professionally. He kept it up until the end. People not only knew him for starting Glenvar’s first band and teaching music for 34 years altogether in Virginia public schools but as secretary of the local musicians union and the man who lined up musicians for everything from the circus to dances.
And he played music, all over. On June 5, he missed the season’s last concert for the year of the Roanoke Valley Community Band, which he directed. Martin Pachey filled in for him.
Grant loved performing for the military, friends said, because his father had been injured in World War II. On a table at the front of the auditorium at Grant’s service, gold thread on his red hat proudly proclaimed he was president of the Kazim Shrine Band.
A flute choir played. Susan Saunders and Betty Herbert, members of the Old Pros of Dublin, played some of his favorite Beatles’ music. When asked to stand, groups in the audience were split among former students, people who knew him with Roanoke County Schools, band directors, Roanoke Valley Bird Club members, the Roanoke Valley Community Band.
Although there were floral tributes, the family asked that other gifts be made in his name to the Community Band Scholarship, the Bird Club and the National Kidney Foundation.
Poet Nancy Akers read a poem she wrote based on the letters of Wilbur Grant’s name. “Wilbur was always laughing at me about my poems,” she said.
The Rev. Dr. Greg Denton who conducted Saturday’s service recalled Grant “was always laughing.”
At the service and in Facebook postings at www.facebook.com/wilburgrant, former students talked about learning a love of music from Grant and are still talking about that.
“He was a joy to learn from,” said Elizabeth Stump Dickerson, a former member of GHS Color Guard. “The love of music flew out him like a melody…He was my school dad,” she added.
Grant was featured as the “Bird Man of Glenvar” in feature article in March 2009 issue of the Salem Times-Register because of his birding and bird-counting activities in the Roanoke Valley and elsewhere.