Van Ray Gilbert

January 17, 1953December 20, 2018

On December 20, 2018, Van Ray Gilbert passed away surrounded by his family at Vitas Hospice at South Seminole Hospital in Longwood, Florida, due to complications from glioblastoma. He was born on January 17, 1953, in Ashland, WI, where his love for water, baseball and the banjo began. At the age of 11 he was given a banjo which sparked his interest in bluegrass music. As he learned to play Foggy Mountain Breakdown, he could be heard practicing at Lake Park across the street from his home where he spent his summers as a lifeguard.

Van and Carole have known each other since the age of 5 where they attended the same birthday parties. They started dating in high school and on January 20, 1973, they were married. He would often tell the story that his friends were always playing with “that Smith girl” when he came over, and to get even, “I married her.” Carole encouraged him to pursue his love of playing the banjo and soon after they left Ashland and moved to Tennessee to join the band, Smoky Mountain Special. Together with most of the band, they lived in Mother Maybelle Carter’s house in Poor Valley (Hiltons), Virginia, over the next few years, playing at the Carter Family Fold, local festivals and events in Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Florida.

Music eventually brought Van to Florida where he played banjo with the band, Against the Grain, for several years. With 3 young children, Van and Carole opened a medical transcription service with Van as courier for the next 12 years. He then became employed by Golf Galaxy as as a clubsmith, until he retired in May 2018 after his diagnosis. Throughout his life, lasting friendships developed as he worked with people he enjoyed and cared about.

Van was warm and caring to all he met, always able to laugh, share some trivia and jokes. He treasured his family; the best part of his day was “going home” to be with them. New and old friends of all ages were always welcomed with a big hug. Known for his chili, spaghetti and baked beans, he always “cooked enough for an army” to be sure there was enough to go around.

He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Carole J Gilbert (Smith), and 3 children, Merit (Stephen) Sowards and granddaughter, Morgan – Bradenton; Lauren (Chris) Dvornick – Altamonte Springs; Victor Gilbert – DeLand; his sister, Gwen Gilbert – Ashland, WI; brother-in-law, Kevin (Sherry) Smith – Delta, WI; sisters-in-law Lori Berg – Iron River, WI and Dori Martin – Superior, WI; life-long dear friends Robbie Sanders (Payson, AZ), Mark and Marilyn Christianson and Melissa Lombardo (Eden Prairie, MN); aunts, Denise Fish, and Bonnie Fish; and his many nieces and nephews, Trevor Pufall, Erin Melland, Lindsey Mattson, Amber Berg, Nicole Berg, Andrew Ohlinger, Ashley Martin, Jenna Martin, DJ Martin, Todd Smith, Cody Farvour, as well as grand nieces, grand nephews and cousins.

He was preceded in death by his father, Major Gordon E. Gilbert; his mother, Yvonne N. Gilbert; his aunt, Anona F. Gilbert, and other much loved family members, most recently Debi Smith.

On Saturday, January 26, 2019 from 12:00pm – 4:00 pm the family will open their home to everyone who loved Van to share hugs and memories. Then in early summer his ashes will be brought to his childhood home in Wisconsin to be placed near Chequamegon Bay, Lake Superior, which he enjoyed so much while growing up.

In lieu of flowers, our family has requested that donations be made to Vitas Hospice. The staff took such beautiful and compassionate care of Van and us during our time there and we would like to be able to give back a little something to help them care for other families the way they cared for ours.


  • Gathering of Family and Friends Saturday, January 26, 2019

Van Ray Gilbert

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Linda Walworth-Fischer

January 4, 2019

I've been a fan of Van all my life, we were childhood friends and lived close to one another on good old Lake Park Road, got on the school bus together for years.....after he left town, the few times I saw him we would give each other the biggest bear hug......he was a very kind soul and will be missed by many. Linda😪

Stefany Rhoades

January 2, 2019

Our thoughts and prayers go to the Gilbert family. What a wonderful man he was. We will miss his smile, his welcoming heart, and his open arms. Lots of love during this difficult time. - The Rhoades