Alan Crawford Webber, 85, Normandy Veteran and Bandleader
Alan Webber had three great passions in life—first wife Joyce, with whom he had two children, Russell and Jennifer; second wife Marianna, who sustained and loved him for 32 years; and his enduring obsession with New Orleans jazz. The latter was with him until the end.
On April 12 Webber was at home, practicing the trombone for his regular Tuesday evening gig at King’s Court Tavern in Leesburg, Va., when he collapsed with a ruptured aorta. The following evening, with loved ones by his side and a jazz version of his favorite hymn, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” fading to its last notes, he died.
In those final hours a steady stream of friends came to Inova Fairfax Trauma Center to say goodbye to the man they loved and to comfort his family with shared memories of his boyish nature, zest for life, playful laugh and often bawdy sense of humor. Webber lived fully, loved deeply and will leave a void in the hearts of those who knew him.
Webber was born June 14, 1925, in Waterbury, Conn. He was confirmed at Watertown’s Christ Church, attended the Taft School for boys and considered himself a dyed-in-the-wool Connecticut Yankee no matter where life took him.
At age 18 he enlisted in the Army and shipped to England with C Company, 358th Regiment, 90th Infantry Division (the “Tough Ombres”). He landed at Normandy on June 11, 1944 (D-Day plus five), and was wounded three days later, on June 14—his 19th birthday. “The Nazis gave me a rather unpleasant birthday gift,” he often quipped of the German mortar shell that ended his war and nearly cost him his life.
Webber spent a year recuperating in a field hospital on the grounds of Lord Bath’s Longleat Estate in England. He received the Purple Heart for his wounds and in March 1946 was honorably discharged.
Returning to the States, deaf in one ear and with shrapnel lodged in his head, Webber took advantage of the newly enacted G.I. Bill to earn a degree in history and economics from Massachusetts’ Amherst College. He then spent a year studying history, political science and philosophy at St. Peter’s College in Oxford, England.
Again returning stateside, Webber married and began a journalism career that spanned more than half a century, rising from reporter on a small-town Connecticut newspaper to editorial positions at various publications, including the Jewelers’ Circular Keystone in Philadelphia. He ended his full-time career as senior managing editor of the NRA journal American Rifleman in Washington, D.C.
In the late 1980s the British Isles again lured Al overseas, this time to live in Wexford, Ireland, with wife Marianna. Life by the seaside suited the pair, who spent five years in Ireland, making great friends and, of course, playing jazz.
In 1990 Al and Marianna returned to the States, settling in Purcellville, Va., to care for elderly family members. It was then Webber came out of retirement to become senior copy editor for the Weider History Group of magazines in Leesburg, a position he held until his death.
But most will remember Webber for his lifelong devotion to Dixieland jazz, as both bandleader and trombonist. Starting at Amherst, Al founded some half dozen ensembles over the years, including Philadelphia’s Good Time Six, the popular D.C.-area Federal Jazz Commission and for the past 15 years Leesburg’s own Arcadians. Webber was also co-founder of the Potomac River Jazz Club, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of Dixieland Jazz. And his music will live on: On the day Al died, Inova Fairfax requested his recordings for use in its music therapy program.
Webber’s business card included the legend, “Old trombonists never die, they just slide away.” Fittingly, Al is to be cremated, his ashes interred with his beloved trombone by his parents’ side in Waterbury.
The family will hold a memorial service for him at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 30, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Purcellville.
Preceding Al in death are first wife Joyce Raines Webber and brother Hugh Sims Webber. Surviving him are wife Marianna Wilcox Webber of Purcellville; sister Sydney Eddison of Newtown, Conn. son Russell Raines Webber of Scottsdale, Ariz.; daughter Jennifer Mary Webber of Berkeley, Calif.; and stepsons Kenneth, Bruce and Kevin Taylor, all of Maryland. “Grumps” also claimed seven grandchildren and one great-grandson.
In lieu of flowers the family suggests donations to the American Cancer Society, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Humane Society or Capital Hospice
written by David Lauterborn
I hope Slidewebber provides some joy and comfort to the family and friends of Al.
Special thanks to Ted Taylor for retrieving the audio recordings from the disk drive of my defunct laptop, David Lauterborn for his moving obit of Al, Jennifer Berry for finding the great trombone photo in the header, Brian King and Weider History Group for allocating server space for the audio, Wendy Palitz for sharing her CDs of Al, and Al’s children, Jeni and Russell, for their warm and enthusiastic support of me sharing Al’s stories. — Kelvin Holland