Music instructor remembered as brilliant, talented

If it were at all possible to describe Thomas Grubb in a single word it would be “fixture.”

The instructor and pianist had been a feature of the Wichita State music program for more than 40 years before he died due to natural causes last week at the age of 62.

Deborah Baxter, an associate professor in the music department, knew Grubb since she came to WSU 30 years ago, and delivered the eulogy at his memorial services last Saturday. She said the man who almost seemed larger-than-life was not outgoing in any sense of the word.

“He was a rather reclusive individual — lived in the same apartment forever, wasn’t that socially active,” Baxter said. “His idea of a vacation when he was younger was to just go to a large city, go to a library and find music that was no longer in print.”

Grubb’s intense love of music is what defined him. Baxter said his passion led him to collect a huge library of music. He could listen to a recording of something without a written score and write it out himself, she said. When people had questions about music, Grubb was a fount of knowledge.

“His knowledge of repertoire was incredible, a fantastic pianist, and yet, he never really left Wichita,” Baxter said. “He’s always been our treasure that the world doesn’t know about.”

Singer Lily Guerrero worked with Grubb on a daily basis, as he would accompany vocal rehearsals on the piano leading up to performances. Guerrero said Grubb was one of the most musically talented people she has ever known.

“He was really great because he could play anything,” Guerrero said. “If you had forgotten to give him your music until the last minute and just threw it at him, he would read it without making a mistake.”

However, perhaps due to his shy nature, Grubb never took his talents around the world. Instead, he chose to stay at WSU and assist students in their musical journeys.

“He had the talent level where he could have been playing for professional opera singers and touring around the world, but he chose to stay here, and to devote his time to helping young people grow as musicians,” Guerrero said.

Guerrero also said that Grubb’s never-ending positive attitude made him an unforgettable figure at WSU. A week before his death, he was there to support Guerrero before a voice competition.

“As college students, we’re always so focused on how far we have to go, and Tom was always there to remind you to look back and appreciate how far you had come,” Guerrero said. “He was definitely a very positive person, never said anything mean about anybody.”

Director of Opera & Musical Theatre Marie King recalled Grubb as a hilarious individual who could say more with a musical instrument than he could with his voice. Oftentimes, he would jokingly play music to fit the tone of conversations that occurred near him.

“He was one of the funniest people I ever knew,” King said. “This was a man who really spoke through his playing. He literally talked at the keyboard.”

Those who knew Grubb say his impact on the WSU music program is profound and his absence leaves a void that one person cannot possibly fill.

“Just because we’ve all been so busy recently, I don’t think that we really yet fathom what kind of an impact it’s going to have,” King said. “He’s a particular individual who was so varied in his skills and his musical genius that it’s almost impossible to find one person to replace everything that he did for this department.”

Baxter said Grubb spent a lifetime enhancing others’ lives through his love of music, something that cannot be replaced.

“I cannot think of another musician who could possibly have touched as many lives as he did in this city,” Baxter said. “What he has given us here is phenomenal.”