Thomas B. Gay, educator, painter and poet, was an inspiration and a supportive friend to many in the Richmond arts community.
Lenore Gay, Tom’s daughter, has herself been a valued and integral volunteer member of the Blackbird editorial staff, for which we are most grateful. We thank her for providing this brief overview of Tom’s life in art:
At age twenty, my father realized art and writing would each demand everything. He had to choose. He chose painting.
When he was sixty-five and retired from teaching art, my father began courting his second love—poetry. From 1983 to 1995 he studied poetry at Virginia Commonwealth University with Lee Upton, Larry Levis, Dave Smith, Gary Sange, Leslie Shiel, Margaret Gibson, and Greg Donovan. During his first semester, Lee Upton asked her class for self-evaluations. He wrote: “I am auditing this class. I’m not supposed to get a grade, but you asked for it. Probably a B-, but I deserve an A, for effort. You inspire me to work my tail off, and I love it. Positive criticism is beneficial, and I’ve seldom received it.”
He continued to write until he was eighty-three. He wrote all the time. The process filled him with joy. When he died in June, 2006, he left stacks of watercolors, ink drawings, oil paintings, sculpture, and collages. And a thousand poems.
His bequest to the Virginia Commonwealth University English Department is an expression of gratitude for the opportunity to study with the varied, challenging, and lively poets who inspired him.