Obituary of Marvin Gentry
Marvin Dean Gentry
(March 16, 1935 – July 14, 2018)
Marvin Gentry was a builder. He built houses for a living, but his life was about building family, relationships, and lasting institutions. Marvin was born, raised, and lived his life in King, North Carolina, a stone’s throw away from the homes of his parents and his brother. Yet while honoring those rural roots, Marvin carved out a life that touched an incredible number of lives in an incredible number of places.
Marvin’s parents, Worth and Marguerite, were energetic farmers and community leaders, and Marvin’s early life included the kind of hard work that comes with farming. During the tobacco harvest, he routinely spent the night at a tobacco barn to tend the curing fires. He and lifelong friend Richard Westmoreland also worked in their fathers’ fertilizer business, King Guano, including driving two-ton trucks across the state to pick up fertilizer at the age of 14.
Marguerite was a teacher, and education was emphasized as much as hard work. These things intersected in one of the central events of Marvin’s life. Having graduated from King High School, he and his mother were working in the tobacco field, when Marvin expressed some reservations about his plan to attend UNC. Marguerite suggested that they visit Wake Forest College. They did so, Marvin was offered admission, and he accepted on the spot. Thus began a lifelong love affair with Dear Old Wake Forest.
Wake was at the time a small Baptist institution in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Marvin was a member of the first class of Demon Deacons to graduate from the new “Reynolda Campus” in Winston-Salem. He was active in the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, graduated with a degree in Physics, and married Alpha Sig Sweetheart Martha Bond Cook.
After a brief stint in Texas, they settled back in King, eventually building a house near Worth and Marguerite. Marvin threw himself into a combination of career work, community involvement, and farming in his spare time. After opening a savings and loan branch in King and working for a time as a stock broker, Marvin accepted an offer to work with brothers Charlie and Ed Shelton in residential development.
Marvin eventually became CEO of Fortis Homes. During his time there, Fortis was one of King’s largest employers and benefactors, and it provided housing for numerous families throughout North Carolina. Marvin made lifelong friends through his work at Fortis, and gained a reputation as a tough – but fair and compassionate – businessman.
As a father to Ted and Priscilla when they were young, Marvin saw to it that they had opportunities beyond those available to him, but not at the expense of the grounding that farm life can provide. Family life included making hay, cutting silage with Gentry cousins and uncles, and helping Marguerite make cider, churn butter, and can vegetables. Farm and family rhythms remained integral even as Marvin’s business grew. Christmas dinners and other gatherings with the large clans of Slates and Gentrys in the area were occasions for excitement, and huge Sunday lunches prepared by Marguerite were common – yet always special. Quiet faith and devotion to duty were modeled, and expected.
Marvin’s love for Wake Forest continued to grow. He and his wife Caroline reveled in sharing the sports pageantry with family and friends, but Marvin also followed and supported the tremendous growth in Wake’s reputation as a top-ranked academic institution. Marvin’s staunch commitment to Wake was recognized in 1989 when he was first named to its Board of Trustees. Marvin served a total of 5 terms – 18 years – as a Trustee, including 8 years on the Executive Committee. Marvin also served as the first Chair of the Wake Forest University Health Sciences Board, and as a member and Chair of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Board. In 2007 he was named a Life Trustee. And in 2009 he received the Medallion of Merit, the highest honor that Wake Forest bestows.
Marvin accomplished a great deal for Wake, but there is general agreement that his crowning leadership achievement was his essential role in the integration of the Wake Forest School of Medicine and North Carolina Baptist Hospital to establish a unified Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. The two entities had long co-existed, yet efforts to bring them together had failed. Tom Hearn was Wake’s President at the time, and he had high regard for Marvin’s skills. So, with the urging of Executive Vice President Richard Janeway of the Medical School, he tapped Marvin – neither a doctor, nor an academic, nor a hospital administrator – to tackle this daunting task. In the summer of 1997, Marvin became Chair of the Wake Forest Health Affairs Committee and Dr. Richard Dean succeeded Dr. Janeway as head of the Medical School. The two formed a partnership that would last for 10 years and that resulted in outstanding gains for the Medical School. With his characteristic tenacity, charm, and force, Marvin helped forge an institution that attracts top talent from around the world to Wake Forest and to Winston-Salem.
Marvin has left behind other lasting legacies. He raised funds for the construction of a new public library in King, which was dedicated to Worth and Marguerite Gentry. He was instrumental in bringing a sparkling YMCA facility to King. Marvin supported many other civic ventures, and he also quietly helped individuals who needed it. In Marvin’s last days, one of his friends said to him: “I’ve never known a better man, or a better friend.” These were apt words.
Despite all of this, if you had asked Marvin to name his own crowning achievement, he doubtless would have identified his wonderful marriage to Caroline. They married in 1980, and from that time were an inseparable team, sharing companionship, laughter, and love. Caroline became a fervent Demon Deacon. Each enriched and ennobled the other in ways that happens only in the best marriages. Marvin and Caroline worked in his typical quiet yet tenacious way to ensure that their two families became, simply, a family. Marvin had no greater pride than that which he felt in the accomplishments of their children and grandchildren.
Marvin is survived by Caroline; by his brother Glenn and his wife Elaine (of King, N.C.); by Ted Gentry, his wife Mary, and their children Tory, Maddy, and Worth (all of Greenville, S.C. but Tory, who lives in Washington, D.C.); by Jim Camp and his wife Gwen (of Albuquerque, N.M.); by Jennifer Martin, her husband Danny, and their children Pryce and Erin (of Greensboro, N.C.); and by Priscilla Wood, her husband David, and their children Gentry and Lydia (all of Durham, N.C.).
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, July 21 at 11:00 a.m. at Knollwood Baptist Church, 330 Knollwood St., Winston-Salem, NC 27104, followed by a reception.
In lieu of flowers, you can honor Marvin’s passions by making a donation to one of the following. Marvin would also be honored if you take a moment to say out loud how proud you are of the accomplishments of those closest to you.
The Caroline and Marvin Gentry Fund in Cardiology Research
Philanthropy and Alumni Relations Office
P.O. Box 571021
Winston-Salem, N.C. 27157-1021
The Gentry Family Scholarship Fund (which provides support to scholarship students at Wake)
Wake Forest University
P.O. Box 7227
Winston-Salem, N.C. 27109
Knollwood Baptist Church, at the address above.