On the morning of Sunday Sept. 3, Gerry Roe passed away at the age of 73. Roe served as the head of Rocky Mountain College’s theatre department for nearly three decades; working from 1987 to his retirement in 2015.
In an email addressed to faculty across campus, academic provost Steve Germic said, “Gerry enthusiastically taught our students, directed countless productions from every imaginable period and genre. The many of us who worked directly with him on these productions knew his indefatigable energy and everyone who met him experienced the privilege of his grace and good humor. Rocky Mountain College is diminished by this loss.”
As RMC senior Bridget Baugh eloquently put it, Gerry Roe didn’t just work for RMC’s theatre department, “he was the theatre department.” Gerry had directed Baugh in two productions during her freshman year: “Love/Sick” and “The Blithe Spirit.”
“Love/Sick was my first production as a college student and with Gerry,” Baugh continued. “He really brought me into the Rocky theatre department family. As a freshmen, there’s all these seniors surrounding you and it can be intimidating, but he really made sure you felt as valuable a member of the team as those seniors were.”
Baugh explained just how influential Gerry was for her because she didn’t start out as a theatre major. “Him bringing me into the family really helped shape that decision for me,” said Baugh. “He loved what he did; that much was very clear. He had a very particular vision of how he wanted a show to go and he knew exactly what to do to make that come to life.”
“For ‘Love/Sick’ he actually managed to get the playwright, John Cariani, to come and work with us; which is not something that happens everyday. Gerry made that happen because he wanted us to get to ask the playwright our questions. It was to make an experience that would bring the wider world of theatre that was beyond Rocky directly to us.”
Baugh is currently starring in RMC’s production of “Animal Farm” which is being showcased at Billings Studio Theatre (BST) under the direction of Jayme Green, assistant professor and the current head of Rocky’s theatre department. Green, who succeeded Roe in 2015, spoke affectionately about his mentor.
“I was an aviation major way back in the day and weirdly enough he wasn’t here my first semester of freshman year; he was on sabbatical,” Green said. “But it was the stories that everybody told about him that made me go ‘Who is this guy? He must be someone special.’ I stuck around to see who this Gerry Roe was. And he didn’t disappoint. He was crazy, but in a great way. He’d do anything to make you laugh.”
“He loved the students,” stated Green. “He was all about helping them realize what they could do. He really cultivated an environment of learning. And now I have his job. I won’t say I can fill the shoes, but I definitely learned from him. Especially that feeling of family that Rocky has. That’s something I know I can continue.”
Kim Woeste, RMC’s Chaplain and Director of Spiritual Life and Church Relations, voiced a similar sentiment about Mr. Roe. “I watched him interact with students and just had the highest regard for his role as an educator,” stated Woeste. “The care and concern he had for students, for their learning experience, and for what they could gain from being involved in theatre. It wasn’t just his job; it was who he was. It extended beyond the classroom.”
One of Gerry’s traditions that Green has maintained includes making students sing when they arrive late. “He would make people sing a late song if you’re late to class,” Green laughed. “Instead of any other kind of punishment, you have to stand up onstage and sing a song. I actually borrowed that from him and put that in my syllabi.”
Green also shared a story about when he came back to RMC and began adjunct teaching. “He asked me to go on the trip to ACTF [American College Theatre Festival], a theatre festival we go to every year. We always enter a show and take students for the competition. We stopped in Bozeman and he got caught in the seat belt in the van.” Green laughed.
“I had to pull over because it became a thing for him. He [Gerry] was half-stuck in it around his neck, his arm somehow was over his head, and he couldn’t get out of the seat belt. All the kids were laughing at him. He’s laughing at the same time, but physically trapped so I had to stop and rescue him. It’s just things like that; even simple life tasks just became a crazy adventure with Gerry. You just never knew what was going to happen. We laughed about that for a very long time.”
Speaking on Roe’s impact on faculty, Green said, “In talking with other colleagues, it’s interesting how he [Gerry] influenced them. Whether they did anything with the theatre or not, they knew Gerry. You couldn’t not know him, he made sure you knew him.”
Tim Lohrenz, Rocky’s Director of Outdoor Recreation, Intramurals, Student Activities, and New Student Orientation, would not be working with RMC students today not for the effect Gerry Roe had on his life. Lohrenz stated, “He’s the one who made me decide to come to Rocky Mountain College as a student.” Lohrenz came to college to pursue theatre and business management.
“The passion [for theatre] was already there, he [Gerry] cultivated it more and developed things in me that I think were the components of what I do now as an Outdoor Recreation person who does leadership development and team-building.” said Lohrenz. “He helped me develop my confidence in speaking in front of groups and being a presenter. I would not be in this position right now if he hadn’t influenced me.”
“I think it was his goal in life to everyday set out to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. Whether that was through just a smile, some sort of joke, or sitting down and having a conversation with you about what’s going on in your life. It was something that he did every single day and I think he’s touched a lot of people’s lives because of that.” Lohrenz added.
Gerry Roe was raised in Pocatello, Idaho. When he was born, the hospital made a typo in his first name, however his mother kept it and this became another distinguishing factor of an extraordinary individual. During his life he achieved multiple awards for his work in and outside the Billings community. A few of these included Best Director and Best Show at Billings Studio Theatre, the Bruce K. Meyers Award for “Outstanding Contribution to the Community”, and the first place award from the Rocky Mountain Theater Association for his production of “Almost, Maine.”
AJ Kalanick, executive director of Billings Studio Theatre, had some fond words for Gerry. “He was a crazy man,” stated Kalanick. “For 34 years in our theatre careers, we crossed paths all over. He had a very creative, theatrical mind. He’s gonna be missed.”
On Saturday Sept. 16, a service was held and people came to pay their respects at the First Baptist Church. The next memorial service for Gerry will be on Sunday November 19 at 2:30pm in Losekamp then the ceremony will move to BST for a potluck dinner and memory sharing.