Altoona native Jeannie Geist said the career of composer Marvin Hamlisch can summed up by one of his song titles: "Nobody Does it Better."
A former board member of the Blair County Civic Music Association, which disbanded in 2001, Geist recalls Hamlisch's performance and persona from when he took the stage during the group's 1989 season. She said he was "ever gracious" and "just such a kind gentleman."
Geist also remembers how smoothly and comfortably he played ragtime - how his piano made one of the happiest sounds she's heard without him ever having to look at the keyboard.
"I think, as with a lot of great entertainers, he was happy to share," Geist said. "Music seemed to be his life."
Hamlisch's life came to an end Monday after what his family described was a brief illness. He was 68.
Geist said she is glad she was able to meet him, and that he played in the area so frequently during his career.
"He was very young, way too young," she said of his passing. "I feel this man had a lot more to give to the world of music, to this universal language."
Hamlisch can be credited with giving the world of music many gifts, including the score for the Broadway hit "A Chorus Line" and music for many motion pictures like "The Sting" and "The Way We Were."
But locally, he will be remembered by people like Patricia Hofscher, orchestra manager and former executive director of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra, for the intimate guest performance he gave in 2005 with the JSO to help celebrate the dedication of a refurbished Steinway piano.
"People loved it," Hofscher said. "He plays to an audience and they respond, and in turn he responds back. ... He could engage an audience and have them right there in the palm of his hand."
Despite his celebrity and success throughout his career, Hofscher said Hamlisch had a way of letting an audience know he was "a human being" who was simply there to entertain them.
Bernie Punt, marketing director for the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, can recall another moment of Hamlisch's humility before he played one of the arena's first small theater shows in 2002.
"When he showed up and saw the arena, he said 'Oh my gosh. How many people are going to be here?'" Punt said.
The success of the performance helped pave the way for the BJC to host more theater shows, where the venue sections off a portion of its space to create a more intimate 3,000- to 5,000-person seating capacity. After the show, Punt said Hamlisch catered to a smaller crowd when he attended a meet-and-greet event for BJC suite holders.
Punt said Hamlisch was "very gracious" the entire evening, shaking everyone's hands and taking photos.
"Mr. Hamlisch was very nice to partake in that," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.