Obituaries » James Martin Elson

James Martin Elson

November 25, 1932 - December 8, 2021

James Martin Elson, 501 V.E.S. Road, Lynchburg, died of natural causes on December 8, 2021 with family at his bedside. He was 89 years old.

Dr. Elson is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth Joan Elson, and her partner, Hari-kirtana das, of Washington, D.C.; his daughter, Christina Elson Sloan, her husband, Christopher Sloan, and their three children, Iola, Oliver, and Leif, of Cumberland, Maryland; his son James Scott Elson, his wife, Melisa Crowley Elson, and their two children, Harper Elizabeth Elson and Sydney Maegan Elson of Saco, Maine; and his special companion Laura C. Ford. He was predeceased by his first wife, Joan Scott Elson, who died in February, 1991, and his second wife, Sue Porter Elson, who died in October, 2015.

The son of the late John James Elson and Elizabeth Slights Elson, James M. Elson was born in New York City on November 25, 1932 and grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. He attended Knoxville public schools and graduated from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He also earned graduate degrees from the Julliard School of Music and West Virginia University and studied in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar. Over the course of a twenty-one year academic career, Dr. Elson taught at and was an administrator for universities and colleges in Ohio, West Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, and North Carolina, serving as chairman of the fine arts departments of Huntingdon College (AL) and High Point College (NC). He came to Lynchburg in 1984 as Executive Director of the Academy of Music Theatre. In 1988 he became Executive Vice-President of the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation at Red Hill, near Brookneal, and remained in that position until his retirement in 2000.

During his career as an academic, Dr. Elson taught vocal music, conducted college, church, and community choral ensembles, and published numerous articles on vocal literature in professional journals. He was the author, annotator, and editor of three books on Patrick Henry; two of these were published by the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation and one by Warwick House Publishers of Lynchburg. Before his retirement, Dr. Elson was a regular contributor to Lynch’s Ferry, a journal of local history. After his retirement, he became the magazine’s editor, serving for six years, from 2000 to 2005. His book, Lynchburg, Virginia: The First Two Hundred Years, 1786-1986 was published in 2004.

Dr. Elson was a retired colonel, United States Army, with thirty years active and reserve service. His senior assignments included instructor in the Army’s Command and General Staff College System and Deputy Director, Morale Support, Department of the Army. Upon his retirement from the USAR, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. A life member of the Reserve Officers Association and the College Music Society, he was also a member of Kappa Sigma and Omicron Delta Kappa fraternities, and the Sphex Club of Lynchburg, for which he published a history on the occasion of its centennial in 2010.

Dr. Elson’s keen intelligence, booming baritone, showmanship, love of history, and sense of humor endeared him to many. He was a patron of the arts, an advocate of intellectualism, and an unrivaled champion of bad puns. He will be deeply missed by his friends, family, and all who knew him.

A celebration of Dr. Elson’s life will be held in the spring. At that time, a private inurnment of ashes will be held at the columbariums of both St. John’s Episcopal Church and the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia.

If desired, memorials may be made to: St. John’s Episcopal Church, the Old City Cemetery, the St. Vincent/ Elson Cultural Arts Fund at Westminster Canterbury; the Academy of Fine Arts, Lynchburg, or the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation, Brookneal.  Condolences may be sent to the family at: elizabeth@raisinbomber.com

Tharp Funeral Home & Crematory, Lynchburg, is assisting the family.

Condolences & Tributes

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We treasure our collaboration at Youngstown State University and St. John’s Episcopal Church, Youngstown, OH at the onset of our professional careers. You were always a challenging handball partner and a great colleague and friend. Your smiling face and great sense of humor will be sorely missed. Ron/Marcia

Posted by Dr and Mrs Ronald L Gould on December 28, 2021

So sorry to learn of the death of a favorite first cousin - one of the few people in this age of zooms & zips who actually Communicated with Real Words & great knowledge. We traded much family history over the years, but our collective interest in a wide range of subjects continued to bring us together. We spent time in Lewiston, NY, where our family had houses & history, & at a family estate near Wyoming, NY, which our great great grandfather built as a sanatorium. At the latter, my husband Ray & I met Sue, & dare I say it? A good time was had by all. We will miss his wit & those Bad Puns. Love to Elizabeth, Christina & Scott.

Posted by Sheila M Vaughan on December 27, 2021

It was with a deep sense of loss that I learned of the death of your wonderful father and grandfather, and my friend. Because Lynchburg is a small town, especially for someone of Jim’s expansive talents and personality, I knew him in multiple capacities, and it was always a joy to be in his presence. Long before I met him, I had read his history of the Academy of Music Theater. Despite his commanding presence, I can’t remember our first meeting. I suspect that he was responsible for an article about my father’s art work in the Fall/Winter 2000 issue of Lynch’s Ferry, and he later included information about my father in his magnum opus, Lynchburg, Virginia: The First 200 Years. I later published several articles in Lynch’s Ferry and perhaps came to know Jim in that way. When I served on the board of the Lynchburg Academy of Medicine, I arranged two meetings of the Academy of Medicine at the Academy of Music. At the first, I asked Jim to speak to our group about the history of the theater, and he delivered! His talk was a wonderful blending of his love of history and music, an unforgettable lecture and a vocal performance. Later Jim became Westminster-Canterbury’s impresario, arranging musical performances. Once or twice a year he contacted our son, Bryan, to arrange Bryan’s ragtime piano concerts. Still later, I was invited to join the Sphex Club. Jim had already written his masterful history of the club, and he was still an active member when I joined. He was not a back-bencher; he participated actively in discussions about club governance and usually had insightful comments or questions for the evening’s speaker. I have scanned all of the club’s 110 years of records and in the process, found Jim’s handwritten notations throughout the minutes, the trail left by a good historian. We have in the Sphex records eight talks delivered by Jim between March 2000 and March 2018 and I would be pleased to send you any or all of them as pdf files if would like. When Sue Elson died in 2015, Jim arranged the service and had it begin with a beautiful recorded harp solo. I passed the name of the piece to our daughter, a harpist, and suggested she learn it. So as you can see, Jim touched my life in many ways, and always for the better, and he has been a friend to three generations of my family. We will all miss him, but celebrate his long life and his multiple gifts, which blessed us all.

Posted by James W. Wright, M.D. on December 23, 2021

I would like to extend my heartfelt sympathies to you and your family on the passing of your father. I met Jim shortly after I arrived in Lynchburg in 1987 to become Lynchburg's Police Chief. Having a keen interest in history was the click in my friendship with your father. I was always appreciative of his intellect and good nature. He gave me an inscribed copy of his book "Lynchburg, Virginia - The First Two Hundred Years" in November 2004 ... even quoting me on page on page 456 and referencing me on page 459. Please know that I liked him very much and will miss him. May God Bless him and keep him in His everlasting glory. Sincerely, Joseph M. Seiffert Lynchburg Police Chief, Retired Lynchburg City Council Member, Retired

Posted by Joseph M. Seiffert on December 23, 2021

First of all, my sincerest condolences to you and your family from all of the staff, volunteers, and board members at Red Hill. Even when it is expected, it is still never easy to say goodbye to your father! I was lucky enough to have spent time with your father on every one of his visits over the last 12 years as well as many phone conversations. He was very generous with the knowledge he gained while here and it has been of great value to me. I have never heard a single negative comment from anyone who knew him through his work here. Although Miz P (Edith Poindexter) used to love to share stories of their times together at work when it was a battle of wills over 'who' was in charge!

Posted by Hope Marstin on December 20, 2021

Jim was my brother in law. He had such a positive influence on my life and I have many joyful memories of spending time with him, my sister and my nieces and nephew. As a welcome member of the family I would spend summers with the Elsons. From Youngstown to Morgantown, High Point, Montgomery, Rock Hill, Lynchburg....so many great memories. With that distinct twinkle in his eye you knew he was going to deliver a joke. He'd then wait for the reaction which he seemed to enjoy more than the delivery of the joke. He was always full of energy, had thoughtful commentary which helped form me from a tween to an adult. I will miss this kind, generous & thoughtful man. I send my deepest sympathy to my nephew, nieces and their families and grieve with you in your loss.

Posted by Teresa Carano on December 17, 2021

I got to know Dr. Elson when he was at Red Hill and I was on the board and later as a fellow member of St. John’s. What an outstanding fellow! Reading his obituary I appreciated how full his life was. It is truly amazing. During his time in Lynchburg he certainly made wonderful contributions to our historic town. He also was a pleasure to be with, always interesting and fun. I know you and your family, as well as his many friends, will miss him greatly. My wife, Kay, and I send our deepest sympathies to you and your family.

Posted by Kent Van Allen on December 17, 2021

Jim was such a wonderful man and I feel blessed to have known him. He was a wonderful husband to my sister and a great brother-in-law who brought much laughter, beautiful singing, and great conversations to our family. I will always cherish the family times we had together and will miss him. Elizabeth, Christina and Scott - how blessed you were to have had such a loving father. You and your families will be in my thoughts and prayers.

Posted by Connie Crutchfield on December 17, 2021

Dr. Elson was such a wonderful man and will be dearly missed by the staff who had the pleasure of knowing him at Patrick Henry's Red Hill. I have one of his binders of Patrick Henry research here at my desk that I reference often. His legacy will certainly live on here! I recall when the family last visit here and count myself lucky to have spoken with Dr. Elson at that time. He will be missed!

Posted by Caitlin Olsen on December 17, 2021

I am the current Executive Director at the Academy Center of the Arts that is home to the historic Academy of Music Theatre that Jim once led. Jim was a great man and to this day we utilize his Academy history book. Thanks to him we have an unbelievably comprehensive understanding of our theatre's history and significance. It was one of the great joys in our journey of restoring this historic theatre to see Jim standing in the lobby on the opening weekend of the theatre three years ago. He deserved to see the fruits of his labor. He kept the dream of the venue alive, educated everyone on its importance and was an ongoing champion for its restoration, and we are forever grateful.

Posted by Geoffrey Kershner on December 17, 2021

I am the current Executive Director at the Academy Center of the Arts that is home to the historic Academy of Music Theatre that Jim once led. Jim was a great man and to this day we utilize his Academy history book. Thanks to him we have an unbelievably comprehensive understanding of our theatre's history and significance. It was one of the great joys in our journey of restoring this historic theatre to see Jim standing in the lobby on the opening weekend of the theatre three years ago. He deserved to see the fruits of his labor. He kept the dream of the venue alive, educated everyone on its importance and was an ongoing champion for its restoration, and we are forever grateful.

Posted by Geoffrey Kershner on December 17, 2021

Dear Elizabeth, Christina, and James, What a lovely tribute the obituary for your father was. He was an amazing guy, and I loved knowing him. He and I used to enjoy swapping tales of Lynchburg and its denizens. When Bettye and I lived in Washington, I always looked forward to his monthly missives (sometimes “missiles”), titled either “News from the ‘burg” or — when there seemed to be an excessive amount of happenings — “News from Lake Wobegon.” Jim always accompanied his letters with newspaper clippings, especially those dealing with preservation, the Academy, and the shenanigans of the Falwells and Liberty U. Later, at W-C, I always looked forward to Sunday lunches and Tuesday dinners with Jim and Sue, then Jim and Laura. I treasure the kind things he wrote about our friendship in his “Lynchburg: The First 200 Years,” and, yes, I’ll certainly miss his booming baritone. Best to all of you, Al

Posted by Al Chambers on December 13, 2021

Condolences to Jim's family. He was the secretary of SPHEX when I joined the club and we served together on the membership committee. I fondly remember his presentations and thorough meeting minutes. I enjoyed his fellowship and I'm glad he enjoyed retirement and a long life well lived. Sincerely, Arelia Langhorne

Posted by Arelia S Langhorne on December 12, 2021

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