Jeff Nelson
September 14, 2017 02:04 PM

Troy Gentry was remembered for his big heart, strong faith and mischievous spirit at his funeral on Thursday in Nashville. But the 1,500 friends, family members and fans who’d gathered at the Grand Ole Opry House also knew him for something else — his award-winning career as one-half of Montgomery Gentry.

Now what would become of the other half, Eddie Montgomery? That question was very much on Vince Gill’s mind as he took the stage to sing “Whenever You Come Around.”

“I hope you’ll lean on this [Opry] family,” Gill implored his Opry brother, who sat on the second row behind Gentry’s wife and two daughters. “It’s a good one. And don’t disappear. Let this family love you.”

Montgomery slumped as he heard the words and wiped tears from his eyes. But Gill’s message lifted family and friends nearby to their feet, bringing the rest of the crowd out of their seats to affirm Gill’s plea with applause. Opry members Ricky Skaggs, Charlie Daniels and Alabama’s Randy Owen rushed to Montgomery and smothered him in a hug, attesting to exactly what had just been said on stage.

Gill closed the 80-minute service, which was filled with reminiscences, tributes and consolation for the mourners gathered. Gentry’s wife, Angie, invited the public to the funeral service, and several hundred took seats in the Opry House balcony. Many came wearing Batman T-shirts in honor of Gentry’s favorite superhero.

Gentry’s friends, family and members of the Nashville music community were seated on the floor. Among the artists who came to pay homage were Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, Craig Morgan, Neal McCoy, Travis Tritt, Josh Turner, Randy Travis, Tracy Lawrence, and Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys.

Gentry died Friday in a helicopter crash after the aircraft’s engine failed failed before a show in Medford, New Jersey. He was 50 years old.

Besides Gill, other artists who appeared on stage were Trace Adkins, who reimagined the Western classic “Poor Wayfaring Stranger”; Charlie Daniels, who sang the hymn “How Great Thou Art”; and Little Big Town, who performed the national anthem.

Jason Davis/Getty
Jason Davis/Getty

Several of Gentry’s friends — including former Costa Rican soccer player Rafael Calderon — also took the stage to share stories.

“With the outpouring of support for his family, one thing became clear to me: Troy changed many lives,” Calderon said in his emotional speech. “Most people just melted with his smile, that would light up every room that he walked into … He genuinely made you feel like you were the only person in the room … With a great big hug, he passed a little of himself to you … Troy, we will never forget you.”

Calderon also addressed Gentry’s daughters, Taylor and Kaylee.

“I know you adored him, but he adored you more,” Calderon said. “His kind heart lives on through you girls. It is important that you both carry on the values that your father strived to live by: work hard, stay humble, be thankful, give back, love deep … Look at all the people who are here to pay their respects. These are people who loved, respected and admired your father, and as your dad sang many times, ‘That’s something to be proud of.’”.

The family friend also opened up about Gentry’s devotion to his wife, calling her “the love of his life.”

“You were his world, and he was yours,” Calderon said. “You were his everything. When you were diagnosed with breast cancer, it shook him to his core. He wanted to take your place. As he sang on this very stage, ‘Come hell or high water,’ he was going to take care of you — and he did. To everyone who knows you, you and Troy were the definition of unconditional, genuine and pure love. He always told me that you saved him.”

The memorial streamed live online and was followed by a private family service; rather than send flowers, the family asked that donations be made to the T.J. Martell Foundation or The American Red Cross for hurricane relief.

—Reporting by Nancy Kruh

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