The world lost one of its brightest and most cheerful lights on Friday, January 20, when Charles Gentry died unexpectedly. This gentle giant of a man who was born in Rockmart, Georgia, had called Austin home for many years. Hundreds of people here and elsewhere around the globe were stunned to hear of his death. All who knew him agree that he had a constant, heart- warming presence that made any situation better. In memory of Charles, we have compiled recollections about him from some of his friends.
I like to surround myself with people who challenge me to sharpen my game. For instance, I married (thank goodness) Linda Ball, one of the smartest and most articulate people I have ever met. Then there was Charles Gentry, that relentlessly cheerful soul. His beaming smile and all-round positive demeanor was a constant, shining paradigm of behavior for me. Whether it was a few seconds of chitchat in the elevator at our condos or a lon- ger conversation in the evening, he never failed to enhance my mood—and he’d top it off with a hug. What a loss. Memories of him should inspire us all. —Forrest Preece
Charles came into our lives as an exuberant participant in charity events, but I really got to know him when he needed a little help from his friends. After his brain injury, he went through therapy and he lived in Tarrytown where only a few things were within walking distance for him. Somehow we fell into a habit of having lunch every month or so. He would bring along a note- book and write down things we talked about. He said his cogni- tive therapist recommended it as a way to work on memory and such. I know a lot of people were picking him up and taking him to appointments and exercise classes. My contribution to helping him through that time was small. But one thing that struck me is how he didn’t mind asking for help and he made you glad to give it, but he never felt sorry for himself or doubted that he would be able to return the favors one day.
One day we were going to lunch and he told me that he’d had all this time on his hands so he’d decided to clean out his closet. He had a lot of stuff to take to Top Drawer. (A thrift store supporting Project Transitions, a charity we both supported.) I volunteered to borrow my dad’s van and take his stuff to the store on our excursion and told him I thought I’d just bring my dad along for lunch, too. I remember how appreciative he was and how he made my dad feel his gratitude. (Dad also purloined a couple of things, including a large sack of bird seed.) I’m guessing Charles was planning to downsize and a move to downtown even then. When we all moved to the 360, Charles and other friends and Forrest and I reveled in our “neighborhood” and he never failed to exalt the glories of the downtown lifestyle when we’d go to lunch or we’d be at a party or even when we just randomly bumped into each other. He was living his dream and he always reminded me that we were, too.
We promised to take care of each other. When I found out what had happened to Charles, I initially felt I hadn’t done my job. Then I realized that we really had taken care of each other. It’s sad that Charles’ journey went no further but I believe we all contributed to his life after his recovery—because he let us in to do it. And he contributed to our community and took care of us, too; not least by making us see some true things about life and death.
I have been struck at how many people felt so close to Charles. We invited Charles to events, he and I had lunch dates, and he threw parties and invited us. We weren’t the kind of friends who saw each other almost daily (and he had those). But everyone in his orbit has expressed how much they felt he cared for them. Because when we got together he gushed with enthusiasm that we’d met up and that he got to see us and that we were on this earth at the same time and the same place. Which is really what friendship is all about. —Linda Ball
A letter to Charles: If you can hear me now, I want to tell you once again how much I love you. I want you to know that the mere mention of your name still brings an uncontrollable smile to my face. That the way you lived your life brought inspiration to us all. That you made every day a little brighter, that you made every moment more special. That your legacy will live on in each of our hearts and will never die. If you can hear me now, I miss you. If you can hear me now, I will meet you someday on the other side. Save me a place. —Trisa Thompson
I was looking around my condo, trying to think of the per- fect words to describe Charles…. loving, kind, generous, honest, meticulous, funny, Ketle 1martini…… and I started noticing how much of Charles is evident in my home. I have a hand painted bowl on my end table that he brought back for me from Turkey, on one of his many trips to Europe over the last year. I have 4 antique fern botanicals hanging on my living room wall that Charles gave me for absolutely no reason. He just knew I would love and appreciate them. On my bedside table is a book, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama that Charles insisted I read and let me borrow. That was his nice way of telling me that I needed to get centered…. back on my path again. My photo wall in my bedroom has a picture of me and Charles at our May 2011 supper club party. What you can’t see in the picture is we are both holding a giant platter of barely medium rare lamb chops for the main course. Only the best for Charles and his friends. In my refrigerator, there is a tupperware container of fried okra and another of Brunswick Stew, both specialties that his mother made when he was in Georgia for Christmas. He froze them, brought them home, and made sure I got some to sample. And then of course there is the homemade apple butter……
So what I really want every to notice is how much of Charles there is everywhere. He is in our homes, in our community, in our hearts. He had that 1 in a million ability to make each and ev- ery one of us KNOW that we are special. We are important. We are wonderful. He loved us all, and told us every chance he got.
We found a posty note on the side of Charles’ refrigerator the other day. (Charles did love his posty notes!) It read “Dying is not as hard when you know you have truly lived.” I hope that when we all are home, we will put that on our own posty notes, and live the way Charles did. – Stacy Paulson