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George Sparks (Epsilon Beta / Eta Omicron) 1950-2020


George Ed Sparks, 70, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) at James Madison University and a resident of Harrisonburg, Virginia, passed away on Sunday, September 13, 2020 at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia.

George was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on June 17, 1950 to Florence Byrd and George Washington Sparks. He received his undergraduate degree from Henderson State University in Arkansas, his master’s degree from the University of Michigan, and his doctoral degree in conducting from Louisiana State University. George was a talented clarinet player, music teacher, and conductor whose high standards of musicianship inspired fellow musicians, students, and colleagues alike.

Prior to joining JMU as dean of the CVPA, George served as Director of Bands (1995-2005) and as the inaugural director of the School of the Arts (2005-2008) at Florida Atlantic University. He was also the founding musical director and conductor of the FAU Wind Symphony of Florida.

During his tenure at JMU (2008-2020), George oversaw the construction of the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts and CVPA facility expansions and upgrades, established an Arts Learning Community and residence hall for on-campus arts students, initiated a Cultural Connections guest artist series, and strengthened a network of opportunities for arts students by facilitating connections between the CVPA and local, state, national, and international arts and arts education organizations. He was a dedicated, inspiring and selfless administrator, educator and arts advocate who worked tirelessly to ensure that students benefited from the CVPA’s focus on the arts’ value to human creativity, the human spirit, and the community.

George is survived by his wife, Sheryl Gifford. He will be deeply missed by his family, friends, colleagues, students, and all who knew him.

A celebration of George’s life is scheduled for 2:00 PM on Saturday, September 26, 2020 at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church. Please note: due to COVID restrictions, attendance at the church is limited to family and guests by invitation only.

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