Music mystic | Editorial

Both mystic and musician, long-time band teacher Gene Ferguson, who died last week in Chicago, brought more than the gift of music to young Islanders. He was a role model and mentor. He was a dignified and wise man who came to Mercer Island to teach in the mid-1970s. Growing up in Oklahoma, he had already experienced firsthand the shameful and stultifying effects of racial discrimination in the South. Moving west to Puget Sound in 1976, he found some of it here too. There were few people of color on Mercer Island in those days — even fewer were teaching in the schools.

I met Mr. Ferguson some 25 years later when he was named Mercer Island Citizen of the Year in early 2002. He was thrilled and humbled. Only when prompted did he tell me the inevitable stories about the treatment he received being a black man in a wealthy white suburb all those years ago. But beyond some head-shaking and wonderment about such foolishness, there was no bitterness remaining, just a wry smile. He told me that he thought of leaving the Island once or twice at the beginning, but he came to love this place and its people came to love him too.

“Here,” he said then with a sweep of his hand across the band room full of shiny instruments and the chaos of adolescents, “there are resources to teach and inspire these young students.” Then, as now, those resources included an army of band parents who were devoted to the music program and to Mr. Ferguson.

There was music to be made every day. He credited his early love of music to his grandmother. He was a lifelong Baptist, who in addition to his day job, sang and directed choirs at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Seattle. Sadly, Mr. Ferguson has been too ill to know that the Mercer Island High School marching band will be headed to London for the New Year’s Day parade there. But part of him will be there too. He would be so incredibly proud.

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