Hundreds pay final respects to renowned Northside drama teacher

awoolen@macon.comJanuary 12, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- There weren’t many seats left in the theater once the lights went down.

Hundreds of friends, students and family members paid their final respects to Gerald Ray Horne in the theater named for him.

At the Ray Horne Theatre of Performing Arts at Northside High School Sunday, Horne held his final curtain call.

“He didn’t want a normal, sad funeral,” speaker Danny Peterman said of Horne. “He said, ‘You can’t spell a funeral without fun.’”

Though most held up the “fun” part of the program, it was a struggle.

Horne taught speech and drama at Northside for 50 years and won countless awards for one-act plays.

He died Jan. 4 at the age of 77.

Among the awards he received, Horne was inducted into the Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas and International Thespians Halls of Fame.

He taught and inspired thousands of students during his tenure.

One of those students was Kim Hilliard Sharpe, who performed the song “I’ve Just Seen Jesus” with current Northside drama instructor Brian Barnett.

“I owe my entire path, whether I knew it or not, to this man,” Sharpe said.

The 45-year-old mother of two shared her story about coming to high school and blossoming under Horne’s tutelage.

Sharpe was not the only one.

Toni Henson Slade said she was a very shy singer and was tricked into performing in front of her peers as well as Horne when she was a sophomore.

“He said ‘sing,’” Slade recalled, doing just that as she regained her composure to perform “Amazing Grace.”

Horne had a gift for getting people to do what he wanted them to do, said Frank Stewart, a former student whom Horne cast as Peter Pan in one of his plays.

“How many of us have done things because Ray Horne told us to?” Stewart asked.

Among the speakers were Matt Arthur, former Houston County schools superintendent; Ed Dyson, retired executive director for secondary operations and former Northside High principal; and Robin Hines, current Houston schools superintendent.

“I’ve known Ray for 50 years and never known him not to draw a crowd,” Arthur said.

Those who knew Horne all agreed he was more than just a co-worker or an educator. He was family.

Hines spoke through tears as he remembered his two years at Northside when he would come in at 5 a.m. to play guitar and talk with Horne before classes started.

“His success may never be duplicated,” Hines said.

He shared a story of when he was hired by former superintendent Danny Carpenter to be the principal. Carpenter told Hines that Horne didn’t want him to be the principal at Northside.

“We have been fast friends ever since,” said Hines.

The most laughs came from imitations of Horne’s voice.

Dean Slusser recounted when Horne asked him to speak at his funeral. He was planning his “final production.”

“ ‘Do you hear me?’ ” Slusser said in his best Horne impression.

The opening number of the funeral, from the musical “Rent,” asked, “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure, measure a year?”

For Horne, it was measured in love.

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