OLYMPIA - Longtime Olympia orchestra conductor and teacher Robert Paul Pendergrast died Wednesday at Capital Medical Center from complications of surgery.
He was 62, and his unexpected passing leaves behind a musical legacy that spanned three states and more than three decades.
Pendergrast served 24 years as an orchestra teacher at Washington Middle School and at schools throughout the Olympia School District. Family members, friends and students remembered him as a dedicated educator, energetic volunteer and talented, passionate musician.
“He was so involved,” said Pamela Pendergrast, his wife of 36 years. “He loved imparting his own love of music to the kids.”
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Robert Pendergrast was born in Tacoma in 1947 and attended Wilson High School, then the University of Puget Sound, where he earned degrees in music and violin. He briefly studied medicine but soon returned to music, earning a second master’s degree in musical performance.
He began his teaching career in Ruskin, Fla., where he helped start that district’s strings program. He later taught in Kendrick, Idaho, and then Toutle, where he helped found the Southwest Washington Youth Symphony Association, before joining the Olympia School District.
He also was the music director at the Capital Area Youth Symphony Association and was the choir direc-tor and organist at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Olympia for more than 20 years. Pendergrast also taught at Reeves Middle, Pioneer Middle and McKinney Elementary schools.
WMS orchestra students were shocked and grieved at the news of his death, said Paul Anders, assistant principal. Three pages in his honor have been started on the social-networking Web site Facebook, and hundreds of friends and former students have joined.
“He made us work, but he was also fun,” said Olympia High School student Linnaea Arnett. “He has had a big influence on how good the high school orchestra is.”
“At first I was a little scared of him, but he helped me and told me I was good and could become a good cellist,” said Sofia Kane, an eighth-grade orchestra student at Washington. “He made everyone want to challenge themselves and to get better.”
“He changed the idea of orchestra in this town, and he changed the level of orche- stra for the students,” said longtime colleague George Strid, choir director at Washing- ton.
He was a demanding teacher but also had a sharp sense of humor, many students said.
“If a section would rush, he would go get a checkered flag and wave it and say, ‘OK, the violins win the race,’” said Jessica Ann Williams, a seventh-grade student in the Washington orchestra.
Pamela Pendergrast said her husband was recognized by former students everywhere they went.
“Even at Disneyland, he ran into some of his old students,” she said.
Pendergrast was known for his ability to play music as well as teach it.
“He was a virtuoso when it came to organ,” Strid said.
Pendergrast also is survived by sons Tom and David.
A memorial service is set for 3 p.m. Sunday at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 1515 Harrison Ave. N.W., Olympia.