In Our Hearts

Tributes to Mary Whitaker

Volume 114, No. 10October, 2014

Mary Whitaker (1952-2014), a Local 802 member since 1976. Photo: Sylvia D'Avanzo

Mary Whitaker (1952-2014), a Local 802 member since 1976. Photo: Sylvia D’Avanzo

This summer, Local 802 member Mary Whitaker’s life was taken from us. On this page, fellow musicians pay tribute to an extraordinary soul.

The Local 802 community was shocked and horrified by the news of Mary Whitaker’s death. She was assaulted in her western New York home on Aug. 20. She maintained that home because she had performed with the Chautauqua Symphony for decades. She, like many of the symphony’s musicians, thought the rolling and lovely countryside of western New York was an ideal place to be every summer, especially when it was coupled with regular performances with an orchestra populated by many of the finest orchestral musicians in the world.

The details of Mary’s assault have become clear. Two extremely misguided and deplorable individuals imagined Mary’s home as a sort of gold mine, where a theft could provide them with a viable life that had previously eluded them. Their robbery plan anticipated gun violence, if necessary. They killed Mary when she could not provide them with their imaginary treasure trove. What a terrible waste! What an excruciating loss for all of our community!

Mary was the perfect opposite of her assailants. She was kind, intelligent, talented, witty, respectful and completely aware of her surroundings. She was willing – and even eager – to bear the burden of committee work and representing others. She was an impeccable and valued artist, performing with many of the local freelance orchestras and on Broadway. She served on many orchestra committees as well as the Local 802 Executive Board, and had been currently serving on the Trial Board. She was the best conceivable musical colleague, and one who would stand up when injustice or misunderstanding was brewing around her. She would also give one the knowing wink when the inevitable performance glitch happened.

Our Local 802 community is rarely confronted with this sort of event. We will all be seeking the best way to remember and represent Mary Whitaker and her exemplary life long into our collective future. Best to all in a tough time.

– Tom Olcott
Financial Vice President, Local 802

Mary is being remembered for many things: her warmth, her integrity, her passionate advocacy and support for her colleagues, and her unfailing moral compass. One thing in particular has struck me, though, and that is that every remembrance mentions her beautiful smile. That smile, for me, spoke volumes. Mary was never one to shy away from conflict or difficulty, but somehow she always maintained her sense of humor. Her smile reminded me that joy is important, especially when the going gets tough. She was (and will always be) an inspiration to me.

–Katherine Hannauer

I think it’s important to acknowledge that Mary’s compassion and humanity weren’t extended only to individuals. She was deeply involved in bettering the musical community in numerous, meaningful ways. I never got the impression that Mary was driven by any particular political or philosophical ideology. Her natural instinct was always to search for solutions, from any source. She didn’t vilify people. She won them over, or at least gained their respect. Her intelligence and clear thinking greatly influenced everyone she came in contact with. The integrity that made her a wonderful human being made her an outstanding representative for her colleagues. She’ll be missed not only because we remember the beauty she brought to our world, but because we must now learn to live without it. No musician who knew her will ever forget her.

– Bud Burridge

I had the privilege of working with Mary Whitaker for 30 years, primarily with the Westchester Philharmonic and American Composers Orchestra. Mary was an excellent violinist, good enough to assume principal positions when called upon. She was also a bright, responsible professional, whom I felt comfortable leaving in charge when I could not be present to fulfill my duties as personnel manager. But none of that seems important now. The outpouring of love from friends and colleagues taps feelings that go well beyond respect for her abilities. I have heard from many colleagues about the personal support Mary offered when they were troubled or sick. Although news stories described her as being private and quiet, I always found her quick with a hug and a smile, almost invariably cheerful, though not a Pollyanna. She had a serious side as well, exemplified by her concern and support for fellow musicians that led her to be active on orchestra committees and at the union. This concern was always thoughtful, in the sense of being full of thought, and went beyond reflexive concerns. She also cared deeply about the orchestras as institutions. And of course, she loved music, with a special affinity for contemporary music. She wrote to me this summer, excited that ACO would be playing music of Meredith Monk, and hopeful that she would be performing on that concert. What a loss it is that she has been deprived of that opportunity, and that we have been deprived of her continuing friendship. She will be missed for a long time.

– Jonathan Taylor

Mary was one of those exceptional people one can instantly recall with complete clarity. It’s impossible to imagine anyone not respecting and admiring her. Such stellar character mixed with easy humor, boundless kindness, wisdom, reasonableness and, as so many tributes mention, that brilliant SMILE! I always looked forward to seeing her. Few have such a glowing light about them! She radiated so much warmth! Her smile was the first image that came to my mind when I learned of her murder. It was how so many of us instantly thought of her, combined with other profound impressions many others have shared.

She was a dream stand-partner: stable, fun and so highly skilled. She was a wonderful and expressive player and consummate professional with so many impressive and well-deserved credits accumulated over the years. I am so thankful to have played with Mary so many times and grown up in the business with her. How deeply we feel the ache as that universal musician’s bond we usually take for granted as ever-present is painfully summoned and shaken in the wake of this tragedy.

What a formidable intellect she revealed when grappling with issues of concern to all musicians. She led by example, creating an atmosphere of seriousness, while demonstrating how to maintain respectfulness even when one of us went off the deep end with suspect points we made. When her time came to speak she brought us back to a rock solid center and would do so without any mockery or attitude. She would simply disagree, explaining why in her low-key way, while dazzling us with wisdom delivered with her characteristic humility.

All members owe Mary a debt of gratitude for her years of service holding various elected and voluntary positions at Local 802, negotiating, advising, participating actively in meetings and protests and helping to shape official policy and contract language as one of our best minds and spirits. All who come after her need to know what a permanent and significant contribution she generously made to improve our lot.

She was passionate about live music. Sharing various advocacy activities with her against the virtual orchestra threat and related live music replacement attempts added to my love and admiration for dear Mary. She was simply the best of the best among us. A force for good and all that is noble in human behavior. The many private and substantial acts of sacrifice and generosity that have been shared in tribute add to the awe I already felt for her. Greatness such as hers must be celebrated and remembered!

When we encounter prejudice against gay people or musicians, I would hold Mary up as a supreme example for anyone to emulate, and in so doing help make the world a kinder, funnier, and more thoughtful and responsible place. She personified quality, depth and unreserved kindness. What a terrible loss!

I vow to remember Mary always and try to carry all her many positive influences forward in my life. My awe for her will only grow deeper in remembrance. May her spirit continue to guide and inspire. Rest in peace, dear, dear Mary! Smile onward!

– Marshall Coid

It’s really not possible to put into words the value of a human life, intrinsically speaking, to another person, to their family and friends, to a community or a profession. There are no words to adequately express the shock and grief that so many of us who loved Mary are experiencing at this moment. About the best that we can do is turn to each other and love one another in her honor, the way that she would have. May her sweet soul rest in peace.

– Tom Hutchinson

When Mary was on the Local 802 Executive Board, we were locked out at Radio City for opening night in 2005. Mary and I were sitting together across from Radio City by the fountain, and we talked for about an hour. She made that darkest hour in our history as bright for me as it could possibly be under the circumstances. She had a God-given gift to lift people’s spirits even in the most difficult times. The ‘03 Broadway strike was another example. But not just during our darkest times. We always had great times sitting together at various jobs. I learned so much from Mary. She was an awesome violinist. Such a natural and beautiful player. We had the best times together at “Millie.” I can go on and on. I loved Mary so much. And so did countless others.

–Eric DeGioia

She graced so many of our lives with her clever wit, great laugh, tremendous commitment, professionalism and big heart.

–Diva Goodfriend-Koven

If I have learned anything from this, it is how precious these connections are which we have with one another! Even if I cannot recognize my own worth at times, remembering the way Mary’s face would light up when we saw one another is enough to convince me that there is love in this world. Thank you, Mary.

–Karl Kawahara

So many fond memories of Mary through the years. The one that sticks out most was our rides on the A train to Inwood. I took reading on the train very seriously but whenever I spotted Mary, that book would go in my case right away because I was so happy to see her and know that we would be engaged in a deep conversation about any subject possible. This would always be followed by a hug and her heartfelt smile. This event really hurts and we will never forget you, Mary.

– Wayne J. du Maine

Whenever I feel sad, angry or upset about something I’m going to ask myself, “What would Mary do?” Then I’ll know the right path to take because her spirit will guide me and stay close by.

– Ann Leathers

Mary had a lovely way about her that set people at ease. I am forever grateful to have known Mary, and I vow to carry a bit of her effervescence and warmth into the world wherever I go.

– Kathleen Thomson

The legacy she leaves us is as meaningful and beautiful as the person she was. Her probing intellect and quick and easy wit were both soothing and inspirational. Those of us who loved her will always carry a bit of Mary with us; her easy chuckle, her sing-songy voice, her 100-watt smile. She was not only a member of our often fragile and attritive musical world, she was the glue that helped hold it together. Mary: We need more glue!

– Gabriel Schaff