Austin “Gus” Deeds ‘14 was remembered as a brilliant young musician who was often seen with a banjo in his hand and a smile on his face as he played.
On Sunday, the faculty, staff and students of the William & Mary Department of Music celebrated the life of Gus Deeds in the best way they knew how: with a concert of the Appalachian music he loved.
Dozens of members of the William & Mary and Williamsburg communities gathered in the Lake Matoaka Amphitheatre for the event, which included performances by The Runaway String Band, Friends of Appalachian Music (FOAM), the W&M Appalachian Music Ensemble and W&M alumna Elizabeth LaPrelle ’09. Associate Professor Jamie Bartlett emceed the concert, and W&M President Taylor Reveley and Deeds’ father, Virginia Sen. Creigh Deeds, offered brief remarks.
Creigh Deeds recalled his son’s search for a college, saying that Gus Deeds had chosen William & Mary because of its open spaces and proximity to the woods.
“So I know he was probably thinking about this spot right here, and I’m sure he’s with us right now,” said Creigh Deeds, the emotion audible in his voice.
Last November, Gus Deeds -- who had left the university and, according to press reports, was struggling with bipolar depression -- attacked his father before taking his own life at the family’s home. The case has generated national media attention, and Creigh Deeds has been using that attention to highlight the need for mental health reform in Virginia.
“The death of a person for whom we care deeply is always hard to bear, and the death of Gus Deeds – a vibrant young man of great past accomplishment and enormous future potential – was a particularly wrenching blow,” said Reveley. “Gus’ time with us at William & Mary was too short, but during it he formed deep and lasting ties with many on our campus, and Gus will always be a member of William & Mary’s Class of 2014.”
As the musicians played on the Lake Matoaka stage, sunlight sparkled on the water behind them and warmed the concertgoers as they tapped their toes along with the sounds of fiddles, banjos, mandolins and guitars – all instruments that Gus Deeds played.
As the concert drew to a close, the musicians took the stage together and the audience stood to sing one last song: “I’ll Fly Away.”“It’s good to gather and listen to colleagues from his musical family play, and it’s good to hear Gus in their music and remember his smile,” said Reveley.