Dr. Wes Forbis, chairman of the music department at William Jewell College from 1962 to 1981, passed away at his home near Nashville, Tenn., January 14. He was 80 years old. A memorial service is being planned for 11 a.m. January 22 at First Baptist Church of Goodlettsville, 613 S. Main St., Goodlettsville, Tenn., 37072.; 615-859-1346. For more information, go to www.fbcgoodlettsville.com.
Forbis received a degree in music education from the University of Tulsa, where he also was a standout football player. He earned a master’s degree in religion from the University of Tulsa; a master’s in music from Baylor University; and a doctorate in music education from Peabody College (now part of Vanderbilt University) in Nashville. He served as the director of the Baptist Student Union and Bible teacher at Del Mar Junior College in Corpus Christi, Texas, and was an instructor of church music and an assistant football coach at the University of Corpus Christi.
During his tenure at William Jewell, the music department grew from seven majors to 135, and from one full-time and two part-time instructors to 10 full-time and 12 part-time instructors. The percentage of the student body involved in the music program grew from four to 32 percent. After leaving William Jewell, Forbis assumed leadership of the church music program for the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn. He wrote for the Church Musician and helped organize the publication of the Baptist Hymnal in 1991. Forbis is survived by his wife, Ginger, and three children: daughters Lisa and Katrina and son Clifton. All three children attended William Jewell. Clifton Forbis is an internationally recognized operatic tenor who has appeared at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Italy’s La Scala and the Opera National de Paris. He performed his international solo recital debut at Kansas City’s Folly Theater as part of the College’s Harriman-Jewell Series in 2006.
Dr. Don Brown, professor of music at William Jewell from 1967 to 2004 and Forbis’ successor as chair of the music department, offered this reminiscence of his friend and colleague:
“Few people in William Jewell’s history have profoundly influenced so many people as has Wesley L. Forbis. He was the right person at the right time. Wes and President Thomas S. Field were the two people who made the Pillsbury Music Center (completed in 1974) possible. Wes was responsible for the remarkable growth of the music program; Dr. Field saw and acted on the need. Wes did not graduate from William Jewell, but he believed in, loved and supported the College.
“‘Doc’s’ students loved and admired him. He demanded their best. One would expect him to inspire music students, and he certainly did that. But he also touched the lives of students from all areas of academic life. He was a great encourager and motivator of faculty as well as students. One of my greatest privileges was serving on the committee that prepared the Baptist Hymnal in 1991. Wes served as the general editor for that massive project. I was chair of the music committee and a member of the hymns recommendation committee. During a sabbatical leave in England in 1989 I researched hymn writers as a co-author of the Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal. Wes made those experiences possible for me.
“The text of one of Wes's poems, Passage, hangs in the Forbis Recital Hall that is named in his honor in Pillsbury Music Center on the Jewell campus. The last stanza reads: O Master of Music, when the last, long shadow stretches forth to cover my passage, let me go forth singing.
“Wes, the thousands of us who loved and admired you are sure you are singing. And, through our tears, we are singing with you.”