Local legend Rip Reagan passes away

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By Kay Smith-Foster

Gadsden State Community College extends its sincerest condolences to family and friends of Billy E. “Rip” Reagan. He began his tenure at Gadsden State in 1986 and worked as a full-time band director and music instructor from 1986 until his retirement in 1996. Reagan remained part-time band director at Gadsden State until February 2014.

“Our Gadsden State family is deeply saddened by this loss,” said GSCC interim president Martha G. Lavender. “Rip was a legend throughout the community for his big heart, knowledge of music, abundance of honesty but mostly for his desire to educate and entertain. The music and compassion that he shared with everyone always left a lasting impression. Rip will be remembered for his service to our college and dedication to helping others.”

While at Gadsden State, Reagan was inducted into the Alabama Music Educators Hall of Fame. The Reagan Park located in Alabama City was dedicated in his honor. The band room in Wallace Hall also bears his name. Reagan was teacher, musician, and entertainer to many showcasing the talents of his students throughout the community. Many of his students have become music educators or perform professionally.

Reagan previously served as band director for Crossville High School, Corinth High School in Mississippi, Albertville High School and Emma Sansom High School. Reagan is widely known for his tenure at Emma Sansom, where he directed the Rebel band for 25 years and was school principal for five years.

During his teaching span at Emma Sansom, Reagan’s accomplishments were vast, including 24 years of superior concert ratings with over 200 superior ratings at marching competitions. 

The Emma Sansom band won the National Veterans of Foreign War Championship three times (1957 – 1959) by competing in Miami, New York and Los Angeles. These awards were instrumental in recognizing Gadsden as the City of Champions. The Emma Sansom Band also won the Greatest Band in Dixie Award, an extremely prestigious competition held in New Orleans, three times (1963, 1965, 1967).  In addition to these highly competitive events, the ESHS band performed for many televised professional football games including the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Birmingham Stallions.

Reagan shared his musical talent internationally by conducting the Dixie American Youth Band (1969 – 1970). This goodwill musical tour took students from seven southern states to Europe to entertain audiences at schools and public events throughout the country. Reagan also is known internationally for his music adjudicating abilities in Europe and Holland as well as throughout the United States.

Whether you refer to him as Rip, Rippus, Daddy Rip or the most widely accepted Mr. Reagan, he is definitely known as a legend throughout the community and will be remembered fondly for his dedication to music education and helping others.

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