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James Martin Elson

November 25, 1932 - December 8, 2021

U.S. Veteran

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James Martin Elson, 501 V.E.S. Road, Lynchburg, died of natural causes on December 8, 2021 with family at his bedside. He was 89 years old.

Dr. Elson is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth Joan Elson, and her partner, Hari-kirtana das, of Washington, D.C.; his daughter, Christina Elson Sloan, her husband, Christopher Sloan, and their three children, Iola, Oliver, and Leif, of Cumberland, Maryland; his son James Scott Elson, his wife, Melisa Crowley Elson, and their two children, Harper Elizabeth Elson and Sydney Maegan Elson of Saco, Maine; and his special companion Laura C. Ford. He was predeceased by his first wife, Joan Scott Elson, who died in February, 1991, and his second wife, Sue Porter Elson, who died in October, 2015.

The son of the late John James Elson and Elizabeth Slights Elson, James M. Elson was born in New York City on November 25, 1932 and grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. He attended Knoxville public schools and graduated from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He also earned graduate degrees from the Julliard School of Music and West Virginia University and studied in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar. Over the course of a twenty-one year academic career, Dr. Elson taught at and was an administrator for universities and colleges in Ohio, West Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, and North Carolina, serving as chairman of the fine arts departments of Huntingdon College (AL) and High Point College (NC). He came to Lynchburg in 1984 as Executive Director of the Academy of Music Theatre. In 1988 he became Executive Vice-President of the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation at Red Hill, near Brookneal, and remained in that position until his retirement in 2000.

During his career as an academic, Dr. Elson taught vocal music, conducted college, church, and community choral ensembles, and published numerous articles on vocal literature in professional journals. He was the author, annotator, and editor of three books on Patrick Henry; two of these were published by the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation and one by Warwick House Publishers of Lynchburg. Before his retirement, Dr. Elson was a regular contributor to Lynch’s Ferry, a journal of local history. After his retirement, he became the magazine’s editor, serving for six years, from 2000 to 2005. His book, Lynchburg, Virginia: The First Two Hundred Years, 1786-1986 was published in 2004.

Dr. Elson was a retired colonel, United States Army, with thirty years active and reserve service. His senior assignments included instructor in the Army’s Command and General Staff College System and Deputy Director, Morale Support, Department of the Army. Upon his retirement from the USAR, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. A life member of the Reserve Officers Association and the College Music Society, he was also a member of Kappa Sigma and Omicron Delta Kappa fraternities, and the Sphex Club of Lynchburg, for which he published a history on the occasion of its centennial in 2010.

Dr. Elson’s keen intelligence, booming baritone, showmanship, love of history, and sense of humor endeared him to many. He was a patron of the arts, an advocate of intellectualism, and an unrivaled champion of bad puns. He will be deeply missed by his friends, family, and all who knew him.

A celebration of Dr. Elson’s life will be held in the spring. At that time, a private inurnment of ashes will be held at the columbariums of both St. John’s Episcopal Church and the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia.

If desired, memorials may be made to: St. John’s Episcopal Church, the Old City Cemetery, the St. Vincent/ Elson Cultural Arts Fund at Westminster Canterbury; the Academy of Fine Arts, Lynchburg, or the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation, Brookneal.  Condolences may be sent to the family at:

Tharp Funeral Home & Crematory, Lynchburg, is assisting the family.

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