Music Professor’s Life, Songs: A Composed Legacy

March 14, 2007

*A memorial service for Professor Emeritus Gordon C. Page will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 1, 2007 at Trinity Episcopal Church, where he was a member of the congregation. A special music program, chosen by Mr. Page before his death, will be presented.

The Mary Baldwin University Spring Concert by the Mary Baldwin Concert Choir, Madrigals, and Baldwin Charm will also be dedicated to Page’s memory. It will be held Thursday March 29, at 7:30 p.m. in First Presbyterian Church. The concert is free and open to community.

Gordon Page’s own lyrics turned out to be a fitting tribute to his life. As friends and colleagues gathered for a moment of silent tribute and prayer on March 12, Mary Baldwin University President Pamela Fox marked his passing using his words:

“When we reach our last tomorrow
of our days in class, on field,
we will know how we must borrow
Mary Baldwin, from thy yield.”

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONThe closing lines ofA Hymn for Mary Baldwin, penned nearly 40 years ago by Page — a professor of music at Mary Baldwin University — found renewed poignancy at the end of his life. They inspired the group of faculty, staff, alumnae, faculty emeriti, and friends of Page and his wife, Martha “Mopsy” Pool ’48, gathered in a small garden near the campus student center to honor his death on March 10 at age 96. Likely most remembered for authoring the unofficial Mary Baldwin alma mater and developing the Mary Baldwin University Choir, Page was one of those treasured faculty members who not only educated his students, but helped them realize their full potential, inspired them to excel, and became not just a teacher — but a friend and a member of the family, too

“They were the kind of people you could say anything to without fearing repercussion,” said Ethel Smeak ’53, referring to the Pages. An alumna who went on to become a professor of English at Mary Baldwin and colleague of Gordon Page, Smeak went on to say: “Individually and together, they were charming and made you feel that you would be taken care of. And talent. They had an abundance of musical talent.”

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONPage nourished and developed his talent while earning a bachelor’s degree at Dakota Wesleyan College and master’s at University of Virginia. He was also a student of Shari de Lys in Boston and continued to cultivate his scholarship and skill with study overseas, including a trip to Paris in 1967 where he researched medieval manuscripts of liturgical dramas — much like his Mary Baldwin contemporary in the theatre department, Fletcher Collins. Page was welcomed as an honorary member of the premier national honor society for leadership, Omicron Delta Kappa, in 1989.

The hymn was drafted at about the midpoint of Page’s 30-year tenure at Mary Baldwin, which began in 1949. Page, Collins, and members of the college choir, were on the road for a performance in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Page had been asked by a television station in Roanoke, Virginia, to have the choir sing an original piece — preferably a college hymn — on air upon their return.

“It was a stroke of genius, but I’m still not quite sure whose genius,” Page said about the college hymn during an interview in 2005. “I had always wanted to write something for the college, but it took a long, long time for it to come along. We are a beautiful college and we are a small college made up of people who like to work with each other. When I thought about these central things, the words came out.”

PICTURE DESCRIPTIONGenerations of Mary Baldwin students who have sungA Hymn for Mary Baldwinmight not recognize Page’s name, but he heard their appreciation whenever he was on campus during an event at which the song was performed, especially when students and graduates choked up on the last lines. Page also convened an Alumnae Choir that performed during Reunion festivities between 1973 and 1994.

“The Hymn makes me think about the times when Mary Baldwin was a seminary, and how it was back then,” said Sarah Benkendorf ‘06, former president of the Mary Baldwin University Choir. Katie Ashe ’08, another member of the choir, agreed that the song “upholds the historic values of the college.”

Certain alumnae from the era of Page’s professorship became very close to him and Mopsy, such as Elizabeth “Liz” Jennings Shupe ’70. Shupe, who refers to the Pages as “Ma and Pa,” remembers fondly the day she met Gordon Page. “I auditioned for him, and he graciously explained what my voice was … and was not. Then he encouraged me to join the choir. He was such a gentleman that I decided to try it. It was the best decision I made while at Mary Baldwin.”

Shupe and other alumnae and family members have cared unfailingly for Mopsy Page before and after her husband’s death, while Mrs. Page battles her own illness.

In the end, as those he loved showered their affection upon him, Page’s verses seem prophetic.

“Friendship, honor, sorrow, laughter
are the ways by which we learn.
Knowledge first, then wisdom after,
love that seeks not for return.”

Holding Their Place

    • Page Garden, a small, colorful plot adjacent to Pannill Student Center, was named in honor of Gordon and Martha “Mopsy” Pool Page in 1998 as a gift from several of their former students. The Pages were influential in the garden design and installation, along with Mary Baldwin Grounds Supervisor Jeff Wagner.

 

    • A weeping birch tree was recently planted on campus in honor of Gordon and Mopsy Page, a gift from the alumnae of the Class of 1970, for whom the Pages served as class parents.

 

  • Barbara Kares Page, Gordon Page’s first wife, was longtime administrative assistant to former college president Samuel Spencer. After her untimely death in the 1960s, the wide, sloping terrace on front campus was named in her honor. Commencement – one of the annual events at which A Hymn for Mary Baldwin is sung – takes place on Page Terrace, as well as other special events.

We know that many more members of the Mary Baldwin University community have memories to share about Gordon Page, and we are glad to receive them at enews@marybaldwin.edu
Visit our remembrances site to read other’s memories about Gordon Page