John Gentry, a longtime teacher, football coach and former Beaufort Water Festival commodore, died suddenly Sunday night at Beaufort Memorial Hospital after a heart attack, according to friends.
If John Gentry had his say, no one would cry.
"He wouldn't want anyone to be crying over him," son-in-law Tabor Vaux said. "He'd want a celebration, not a funeral."
Gentry, a longtime teacher, football coach and former Beaufort Water Festival commodore, died suddenly Sunday night at Beaufort Memorial Hospital after a heart attack, according to friends.
"He was a good man, and I learned a lot from him -- like what's important in life at times like this," said Vaux, an attorney and Beaufort County councilman.
Gentry, 59, moved to Beaufort when he was 11 and spent most of his life in the city. He and his wife, Jan, have three children -- Megan, Erin Vaux and Kyle -- and five grandchildren.
He served three and a half years in the Army and was a military police sergeant. After returning to Beaufort, he taught and coached football for more than 30 years, many of them at Beaufort High School and Beaufort Middle School.
"He coached pretty much everybody in Beaufort who played football or basketball," friend and 50th Water Festival commodore Richard Norris said.
Bob Bible, 56th commodore, said the years Gentry spent as a teacher said a lot about his character.
"It's not easy molding young minds," he said. "That's not something that just everyone can do, you really have to be dedicated to do that."
Gentry retired from teaching in 2012, the same year he served as commodore of the 57th annual Water Festival.
"He taught us to ask questions and reminded us to pay attention to the details," said Brandy Gray, who is commodore of next year's festival. She called him a friend, mentor and community leader.
"He brought his coaching style with him in all elements of his life. He touched many lives, and I am so honored to call him my friend. He will truly be missed by all."
Just before the 2012 festival, Gentry recalled being "sucked in" to volunteering for the event by friends like Norris. But he also said he loved the work and giving back.
"You get caught up in wanting to do something to help Beaufort," Gentry said. "You just get caught up, and Jan volunteers right alongside me."
Norris chuckled Monday remembering how he pulled Gentry back into the "black hole" of volunteering at the Water Festival. The two met because their wives were co-workers at Mossy Oaks Elementary School. The two "have been famous -- or infamous -- friends since then," Norris said.
Gentry was a larger-than-life personality and known for pranks, but also would do anything for his family and friends, Norris said.
"John was the family guy," he said. "He was always there for every single thing. It was a good model for me and my family. We are a closer family because of having seen how close they were as a family."
Sheri Little, 55th commodore, said she first met Gentry 18 years ago when he coached her son. Their friendship developed over years of laughing and sweating through the Water Festival.
"He would always take care of the people in his life. He could always be counted on ... and he could be counted on to aggravate the hell out of you," Little said. "I've never met a man who could (make me mad) one minute and make me laugh so hard I would cry the next."
Gentry is the second of the recent commodores to have died in the past two years. Keith Cummins, who was commodore in 2006, died in 2012.
Cummins' death makes Gentry's passing particularly hard to take, Norris said. Cummins, Gentry, Norris and 2009 commodore Wilmot Schott were all recent leaders and part of a tight-knit group, he said.
"There's no doubt I am a better person for knowing both of them," Norris added.
Funeral arrangements, which have not yet been announced, are being handled by Anderson Funeral Home and Crematory.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.