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
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.