Honoring Dr. Marcia L. Gentry – Scholar, Mentor, and Friend

On a warm July evening during my first summer at ConFraTute as part of my University of Connecticut Master’s degree program—I met Dr. Marcia Gentry. Little did I know how that chance meeting would forever change the trajectory of my life and career.

Anyone who had the opportunity to meet Marcia would immediately notice that she always wore at least one piece of turquoise jewelry. In fact, turquoise was her favorite color and a frequent theme throughout many parts of her life including her choices in home décor. Turquoise has been equated to wisdom; “…the sea-green stone reminds us of the value of every person's experience. When we see rightly within our own selves, neither elevating our strengths nor glossing over our weaknesses, we develop greater compassion and empathy for others” (https://eragem.com/news/turquoise-meaning-symbolism/). I can think of no better description for the way that Marcia lived her life.

Marcia was leading scholar in our field. Her diligent work to advocate for and recognize the gifts and talents of populations that have been traditionally overlooked has moved our field forward. She was a visionary who understood that every gifted student deserves a rigorous learning experience, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual identity or orientation, or socioeconomic status. Her work evolved over the last two decades but always focused on opportunities for a broader group of students. From her early work on enrichment clusters, to cluster grouping, to her passionate work on equity, inclusion, and diversity, Marcia believed that too many talented and gifted students were being denied opportunities and hope.

For those of us who had the honor of being her graduate students, she was a mentor who cared deeply for us and held us to the highest standards. She advised us to ensure our success, not only in our graduate work, but as we moved into our roles within academia. This spirit of servant leadership and mentorship was not reserved only for her graduate students, but extended to many others in whom she recognized the value of their voice and perspective in the field of gifted education.

And for a lucky few, she was so much more. I am honored to have been one of those lucky people. Marcia was so much more than a scholar and mentor; she was my dear friend. I looked forward to our weekly, and often multiple, conversations and text messages. Yes, we would discuss the state of our field, but more often we would just share the ups and downs of our day-to-day lives, the state of politics, and just laugh because of her wicked sense of humor. Very often Marcia would be quick to quote a song lyric that fit perfectly with what was going on in the moment. Every time we got together in person there would be the mandatory game of cards or time spent on a puzzle. Marcia was an avid collector of Native American weavings, bequeathing 43 of her weavings to the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis that will become a part of their permanent collection. Her passion led me to purchase my own weavings at auctions that we attended. On every visit to West Lafayette, we would walk her gardens—she was a licensed Master Gardener—and she would show me her latest plantings. And yes, she would inevitably have us pulling weeds – we used to joke, once a grad student, always a grad student, the job never ends.  I will forever hold these times together close to my heart.

The world saw Dr. Marcia L. Gentry as a leading scholar and mentor to many of the current and up-and-coming voices in our field, whose legacy will live on for many years to come. For me and others, she was simply Marcia – our dear friend who will be forever missed.

Author: Mathew Fugate, Ph.D., is on the faculty at Bridges Graduate School of Cognitive Diversity in Education. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue. Dr. Fugate is the Associate Editor of NAGC's Teaching for High Potential and chair of the Special Populations Network. He serves on the Board of the Texas Association for Gifted and Talented and is on the editoral board for the Journal for Education of the Gifted.