Retired Morehead State University dean emeritus Dr. Johnson Eugene “Gene” Duncan, age 98, of Morehead, passed away Friday, Feb. 2.
Duncan attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music in 1941. He began his career as band director at Shades Cahaba High School in Birmingham, Alabama. He joined the Army Air Corps during World War II and was awarded a citation as the top pilot in his squadron during mid-flight training. Unfortunately, a bout of pneumonia and a severe allergic reaction to an antibiotic led to an honorable medical discharge. While recovering at home, Duncan met the love of his life, Jane Yarbrough, whom he wed on August 4, 1944. Jane passed away in 2009, after almost 65 years of marriage.
In 1946, Gene and Jane moved to Evanston, Illinois, where Gene completed a Master of Music degree at Northwestern. In 1947, they moved to Jacksonville, Alabama, where Gene became the director of the band at Jacksonville State University.
In 1954, Duncan accepted a fellowship at the Peabody College of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he earned his Ph.D. degree in 1955. The Duncans had returned to Jacksonville when Dr. Adron Doran, president of Morehead State College, called him and convinced him to come to Morehead to build a strong music department.
The Duncans arrived in 1956, and for the next 28 years, Duncan excelled in building a renowned music program. While serving as head of the Music Department, chairman of Fine Arts, and dean of the College of Humanities, he recruited outstanding faculty and students. In addition to numerous professional accomplishments, he served as the national president of Phi Mu Alpha Music Fraternity and national president of the Sinfonia Foundation.
He was the recipient of the Founder’s Award for University Service in 1994, and the J. E. Duncan Recital Hall in the Baird Music Building is named in his honor. He retired from the University in 1982.
Active in community life, Duncan was a founder and member of the Board of Directors of First Federal Savings and Loan since 1963, a founding member of the Optimist Club in 1964 and a member of Morehead Investors Club and Morehead Men’s Club. He also was he was a founding member of WMKY.
Dr. Duncan is survived by one son, Charles Eugene “Chuck” Duncan and wife Mary of Lexington; one daughter, Dianne Gowin and husband Ray of Marion, Ohio; four grandchildren, Steven (Enola) Jones, Paul (Laura) Jones, Matthew Duncan and Katherine Duncan; and three great-granddaughters, Tereasa (Brian) Schrote and Amanda and Lydia Jones.
Funeral services were conducted Monday, Feb. 5.