in 1989, Sam Gentry figured on celebrating his 47th birthday under the radar with a soiree at his Brickell Avenue apartment by making it a reception to honor James Judd, then the artistic director of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Florida.
Then someone called for Judd to lead a chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Gentry, who was chief of the former Southeast Bank’s private banking division at the time, was slightly chagrined. And charmed.
“He was a strong community leader,” said his friend Shed Boren, former president and CEO of Camillus House, in an email to the Miami Herald.
Gentry, who also led private banking at then-Capital Bank and Colonial BancGroup, and served for five years as executive director of the Miami Dade College Foundation, mixed with South Florida’s community leaders and made things happen.
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Gentry died Saturday of prostate cancer at 74. He had been with American Welding Society as its executive director since 2006 and led the scholarship programs of the society’s foundation.
Gentry’s death, Boren said, “is an end to another era. He was a generous donor to the work I did in AIDS care at Mercy. He hosted events, cooked for families, and spent time with the patients. He also helped us host fundraisers — including a special one in conjunction with the traveling show of ‘Rent.’ ”
In 1998, Gentry helped facilitate the Fana Holtz Foundation’s $5 million donation to Jackson Children’s Hospital, said José Valdés-Fauli, Gentry’s friend and colleague at Colonial. “Sam was the one who was instrumental in setting it all up. He was very philanthropic,” Valdés-Fauli said. The hospital was renamed Holtz Children’s Hospital.
“Sam came from a generation where leaders were involved in a multitude of different charities, professional associations and other civic organizations,” Boren said. “A true Southerner from Alabama, his cooking surpassed the world’s best chefs. A dinner party at Sam’s house meant gourmet Southern food, interesting people and great conversations.”
Sam could be tough, but he was a gentle giant.
Art collectors Susan and Bob Zarchen met Gentry at a dinner party thrown by Valdés-Fauli about 33 years ago.
“Sam and I marveled at the fact that no matter what, whether it be politics or food, no matter what subject, we could discuss them with civility — and civility seems to be a thing of the past in today’s world,” Susan Zarchen said. “Sam and I used to get a kick out of it. … Sam was a true friend.”
Ray Marchman, former director of marketing for Northern Trust, set up the Northern Trust Forum, a breakfast lecture series, with Gentry. They became fast friends after Gentry moved to Miami from Birmingham, Alabama, in 1980.
“Sam had a world of friends,” Marchman said, noting how Gentry’s enthusiasm got former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno to contribute to the American Welding Foundation.
A welding company might seem an odd fit for an arts-loving, numbers-crunching exec like Gentry, Marchman chuckled, “but it just was natural for him. He was a good ol’ boy from Alabama and he got to know the welding men who owned all kinds of welding companies and he was very successful in raising money for the Society. He was a good guy.”
Gentry’s survivors include his husband José Luis Hernandez. Services will be private.