On Sunday, June 26, this year, Rebecca Decker (board president) called me in tears to tell me that Virgil Gant, our longest-serving board member and my friend, had died earlier that day. On vacation with his wife and grandson, high winds buffeted the trailer he was hauling, flipped his vehicle, and instantly caused his death.
Annually, our Communications Department places a large group photo of our trustees here at the Education Support Center. This year, that photograph is extraordinary. Our trustees decided to gather around a framed photo portrait of Virgil.
This beloved man, age 68, served as a school board member here for 16 years. He graduated from Texas A&M and served his country for 28 years, rising to the rank of a Navy captain, including two tours of active duty in Vietnam. Here in Pearland he was known as a financial planner, prominent in the Boy Scouts, and a member of the Rotary Club. He was the school board president when I was hired. He and I always saw eye-to-eye. He had my back and told me so.
He was very proud of having influenced Rebecca to run for the school board — and even prouder when she was named president in May of this year.
The thing I always told others about Virgil was that he did so many acts of kindness and benevolence without telling anyone except those who needed to know. Boy Scout leadership can tell you about that. Pearland Rotary can tell you about that. Kids in Africa can tell you about that. St. Helen’s Church can tell you about that. Others I don’t even know can tell you about that.
I remember how excited he was about completing the famous Camino de Santiago de Compostela walk/pilgrimage in Spain. When he came back, he told me all about that arduous journey — and urged me to watch the Martin Sheen movie made about that same trek. Virgil was a man of faith.
On the night of his death, I prayed that God would somehow let me know that Virgil was fine. While I’m certainly no mystic, I had a dream that night that Virgil was climbing a beautiful evergreen tree way up in the air. If you saw Virgil’s physique, that paints an unusual picture. But it gave me reassurance.
I was leaving for a solo trip down I-10 to Arizona shortly thereafter. I had read newspaper reports about exactly where the accident occurred on that long lonely road near Ozona. One article said it happened at mile marker 343. I was listening to music on my car stereo. Just then, the song “Rise Up” by Andra Day began to play. This was of considerable comfort to me. If Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be in paradise with him that very day, I should have no doubt about Virgil Gant, a strong man of faith.
One postscript: At the large funeral service for Virgil, his wife (Dr. Debbie Gant, well-known pediatrician in Pearland) came up to me and told me she wanted to do what she could to help the school bond pass — because it was what Virgil wanted and worked on. Yesterday (Tuesday, Nov. 8) I visited the polling site at Tom Reid Library. There sat Debbie under a “Back the Bond” tent, holding up a sign and urging folks to vote for our schools. Maybe Virgil is smiling up there. We sure miss him down here. . . .