FORT WORTH, TEXAS - Van Cliburn was an international legend for over five decades, a great humanitarian and a brilliant musician whose light will continue to shine through his extraordinary legacy. He will be missed by all who knew and admired him, and by countless people he never met. He died at his home in Fort Worth on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, surrounded by loved ones. He was 78 years old.
Service: Mr. Cliburn will lie in repose 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, with the church service taking place 3 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at Broadway Baptist Church. Entombment will be in Greenwood Mausoleum.
Pallbearers will be Perry Bass, Fuller French, Craig Kelly, Burke Kleinheinz, Peter More, Sam More, Charlie Potts, Alexander Rodzinski and Edward Sampson.
Memorials: To honor the memory of Van Cliburn, gifts may be sent to the O'Bryan Cliburn Cultural Foundation, Box 470219, Fort Worth, Texas 76147.
The recipient of honors conferred by U.S. presidents and international heads of state, as well as by renowned conservatories and civic organizations, Van Cliburn possessed a warmth and graciousness, sincerity and authenticity rarely found in artists of his stature. A spontaneous and articulate speaker as well as a natural philosopher, his remarks, both public and private, were transformative, always rich with meaning. The words he spoke at age 23, arriving at City Hall in New York at the terminus of a ticker-tape parade given to honor him as victor of the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958, say it best: "I appreciate more than you will ever know that you are honoring me, but the thing that thrills me the most is that you are honoring classical music. Because I'm only one of many. I'm only a witness and a messenger. Because I believe so much in the beauty, the construction, the architecture invisible, the importance for all generations, for young people to come that it will help their minds, develop their attitudes and give them values. That is why I'm so grateful that you have honored me in that spirit."
Although Mr. Cliburn's origins were Shreveport, La., and Kilgore, Texas, with his home since the 1980s being Fort Worth, he has resided in the hearts of millions whose spirits he uplifted and whose lives he touched and influenced in his 78 years as a global citizen and cultural ambassador. Born on July 12, 1934, in Shreveport, Van Cliburn was welcomed by an adoring father, Harvey Lavan Cliburn, and a loving mother, Rildia Bee O'Bryan Cliburn, a classically trained musician who became his first piano teacher. Mr. Cliburn described that moment as his luckiest. His wonderful parents complemented each other and gave him all that they had, nurturing and guiding him into becoming a gift to the world. Making his orchestral debut at age 12 in Houston, he went on to graduate from The Juilliard School in New York. In 1958, as he triumphed at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, his childhood love of the Russian heritage sprang to life. From that historic day forward, he carried with him the good will of people everywhere, along with a special gift of a good luck five-ruble gold coin once cherished by Sergei Rachmaninoff. It was the height of the Cold War, and Van Cliburn tore down cultural barriers and transcended politics by reaffirming the universality of classical music.
The next five decades were filled with music, accolades, travel, celebrations, speeches, dedications, honors and awards, and a multitude of tireless efforts across the globe to advance the importance and value of classical music as enduring and irreplaceable. Among the honors he received are The Presidential Medal of Freedom presented by President George W. Bush, the National Medal of Arts presented by President Barack Obama, the Kennedy Center Honors, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the Russian Order of Friendship presented by President Vladimir Putin on behalf of the Russian people. Often mistaken as his personal foundation, the Fort Worth-based Van Cliburn Foundation, named for Mr. Cliburn, was initiated by a dedicated group of music educators in 1962 and now celebrates 50 years. With the cornerstone of the Foundation being the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, it continues as a living legacy to Mr. Cliburn's constant efforts to aid the development of young artists.
Mr. Cliburn is survived by his friend of longstanding, Thomas L. Smith, millions of adoring fans, and by the eternal beauty of classical music that remains within our individual and collective hearts and spirits.
Thompson's Harveson & Cole Funeral Home and Crematory, 702 Eighth Avenue, Fort Worth, Texas 76104, (817) 336-0345
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Published by Shreveport Times on Mar. 2, 2013.