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Remembering Al Gilbert

Rev. R. Benjamin Jones

On Sunday, January 13, at the Emmitsburg Presbyterian Church a service was held to celebrate the life of Alfred Gilbert who died December 18, 2001 at age 94. Al had been organist at the Presbyterian Church for thirty-five years and played his last service there on October 14, 2001.

For twenty of those thirty-five years I have been pastor at the church and came to know Al well. He was a pianist whose first job was playing for silent movies; he thought he was set for a career until the "talkies" came in. His organ playing (he confided that he had only one lesson) had something in it of the drama of the movie playing and also the intuitive warmth of the cocktail lounge player which he was for many years in Pittsburgh.

Al always looked far younger than his years and I think he could be taken for 65 until just a few years ago. He liked to dress in bright colors (favoring yellow) and loved to tell others what they should wear ("you should wear more yellow, Bengie," he said to me often.) He told me that once he wore a bright yellow suit and as he walked down the street some kids said, loud enough for him to hear, "that old guy looks like a banana." He took no offense and laughed when he told it. And, he kept on wearing yellow.

Along with a good sense of humor, Al was a man of strong opinions and said what was on is mind. While his ideas were often presented in an abrupt fashion, he was a gentle man of good manners and a good, patient listener. He read widely and thought about what he read.

My wife Becky and I made plans some time ago to take Al to dinner and the opera in Baltimore. The Lyric was showing The Barber of Seiville and it was the 13th of October. Just before the event he wrote to a family member "...looking forward to the 13th" for we have all plans made to go to the opera, am not wearing a tux!!!! Expect to have a grand time."

It was the last thing he ever did. He was already more ill than any of us knew and the next day, Sunday, after he played the organ at the service for the last time we took him to the Gettysburg Hospital. A series of strokes caused increasing confusion and he died a little more than two months later.

Alfred Gilbert was a character in the very best sense of the word. His talents and personality enriched us. In our memorial service we celebrated his life and thanked God for him. And now we miss him.

Do you know of an individual who helped shape Emmitsburg?
If so, send their story to us at: history@emmitsburg.net

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