I'm still in shock, as are so many countless friends and acquaintances of Jerry Seawright, founder and long time director of the Blue Devils. Jerry passed away yesterday (Sunday, May 16, 2004) at home. Death didn't knock before taking him: It came with no warning. I can't think of Jerry without thinking of his smile, without thinking of his demeanor. He was like a friendly uncle to the entire activity. He was someone who just radiated hope in the future and pride in the present. When one was with Jerry, one knew this activity was going to be all right. He just oozed this sense of security that was comforting to be around. In an era of increasing societal cynicism, Jerry was the real thing -- a leader, an innovator, a gem of a human, a friend to everyone. He was a businessman who took an ensemble of drums and bells, added bugles in 1970, pushed the corps to make the DCI World Championship finals in 1974 and won the whole shebang two years later. And when it was time for younger blood to take over, he gave the keys to the corps to someone he trusted and stayed out of the way. Oh, he was always around to answer questions and provide assistance, but from what I heard he didn't butt in and tell Mike Moxley, the new director, how things should be run. His lack of egotism wouldn't allow that. Over the years, I somehow got to know Jerry. Like so many, I thought of him as a friend. We'd have casual chats at the big drum corps shows and the annual DCI winter meetings. He always seemed genuinely happy to see his old friends. He always found time for everyone who wanted to shake his hand and tell him how glad he or she was to see him. Jerry was a giant in the drum corps community. He must have known that, but it didn't seem to go to his head. He brought to the activity a sense of how to run a drum corps like a corporation. He showed others how it was done. He believed that individual drum corps would best survive if the corps' management realized they were dealing with a corporate entity and not just a bunch of kids, musical instruments and buses. What he did for the Blue Devils he tried to do for the entire activity. He was always good for a laugh. He thought drum corps existed to be enjoyed. He wanted others to love it as much as he did. Despite seeing drum corps as a business, he also saw it as a love, as a passion, and as a way to make kids' lives better. Last year I wrote a Fanfare column about him, comprised of contributions from marchers and friends of The Blue Devils. Some of the stories were downright touching, such as remembrances from fans that as kids sent him letters and received personal replies. But my favorite was from the marcher from a small inner city corps from Brooklyn in 1973, the year before the Blue Devils made DCI World Championship finals. The small corps' management hadn't thought through the corps' food needs before going on tour. The corps ended up staying in the same gym as the Blue Devils, who were boarding their buses to eat at a pizza restaurant. When BD came back, Jerry brought in several boxes of pizza for the kids from Brooklyn. He always wanted to push his corps forward, but he didn't want to leave other corps behind. He was a true gentleman -- and he was timeless. His values are valuable to the activity today and will be so tomorrow and as long as there is drum corps. When I ran into him after the Fanfare column appeared, he said something about feeling undeserving of being honored in such a way, and quite touched by the warm feelings of others. To me it was a column. To him, it was overwhelming to hear that so many of his kids -- and others -- thought so highly of him. A typical person might have thought that they had earned the respect of others. He felt humbled by that respect. Such was his dignity. Jerry taught a new generation of directors how to "do" drum corps. He taught his corps kids how to love drum corps. His presence led others to believe that drum corps must be this really special thing to have been chosen to experience his love. I still can't get that smile out of my mind. He always looked so happy to be around drum corps and especially drum corps people. He continually seemed content, blessed, and proud of the kids and staff of the Blue Devils and his friends from other corps and the entire activity. I want to see his smile again. I'll miss that smile. Oh God, I'll miss that smile.
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