The Dark Knight stood watch over Troy Gentry’s casket Thursday afternoon in Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry as friends and colleagues remembered the Lexington native and country star as a gifted artist and a merry prankster, who died just as he had become the best version of himself.
“All of us who knew him ... were so excited about who he was now,” said the Rev. Michael L. Glenn, Gentry’s pastor at Brentwood Baptist Church on the outskirts of Nashville.
Glenn recalled Gentry as an initially reluctant churchgoer, “dragged” to services by his wife, Angie, and appearing anxious to get out the door, but he became a devoted Christian through a group of men who regularly met for breakfast in Nashville. Eddie Lunn, a member of that group, said following the Biblical command to “Love God and love others” gave Gentry purpose in life.
“He had loving others down,” Lunn said, and Gentry’s smile was “a gift to all of us.”
Several speakers and artists choked up while talking about Gentry, 50 who was killed Friday in a helicopter crash in New Jersey before a show by Montgomery Gentry, his duo with Eddie Montgomery.
Country star Vince Gill addressed Montgomery directly, telling him to lean on the family of the Grand Ole Opry, of which Montgomery Gentry had been members since 2009. “Don’t disappear,” Gill said to Montgomery as a live stream of the memorial showed several people embracing Montgomery, including fellow Kentuckian Ricky Skaggs.
Batman was a recurring theme throughout the ceremony. Several speakers wore Batman items in honor of the superhero Gentry loved, in part because Batman didn’t possess super powers.
“I’m not saying Troy was Batman,” said Gentry’s friend Rafael Calderon, a former Costa Rican soccer player. “I’m just saying no one’s ever seen Troy and Batman in the same room.”
Calderon’s comments focused on Gentry’s fun-loving side, and there was plenty to work with, including his love of Disney World, where he said Gentry rode every ride and had a Mickey Mouse T-shirt for every day. He and others said Gentry loved that his daughters, Kaylee and Taylor, gave him the chance to be a kid again.
“You adored him, but he adored you more,” Calderon said. “His kind heart lives on through you girls.”
Turning to Gentry’s wife, he said, “Angie, he always told me you saved him. You showed him the way, and God did the rest.”
Fellow musicians honored Gentry in song. The duo Halfway to Hazard sang “My Old Kentucky Home,” and Elvis tribute artist Cody Ray Slaughter, who called Gentry “my big brother Troy” gave a rendition of “Kentucky Rain.”
Trace Adkins, who played the traditional classic “Wayfaring Stranger,” said, “Anytime I ever shared this stage with Troy, it was a privilege, and that’s no different today.”
Charlie Daniels, who welcomed Montgomery Gentry into Opry membership in 2009, prayed, “I thank you Lord for letting us have Troy before you took him back,” before playing “How Great Thou Art.”
Gentry himself brought the memorial to a close with “Better Man,” from Montgomery Gentry’s pending and final album. The song echoed speakers’ assessments of Gentry’s strengthening faith and of him settling down in recent years.
Glenn said he wished he had been in New Jersey on Friday to talk Gentry out of riding the helicopter, which experienced mechanical problems and crashed.
“You can’t be a kid all your life,” he imagined himself saying, “You can’t do things just because they’re fun.”
But, he said, Gentry’s shocking death was further evidence that life is uncertain, and no one knows when their time will come.
“The risk of losing him is easier than the risk of him never being part of your life,” Glenn said. “He was worth the risk.”
Calderon echoed that sentiment concluding if Gentry were there, he would say, “’Don’t cry because I am gone. Smile because I lived,’ and boy, did he live.”