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Remembrances of Dr. Charles P. “Doc” Whittemore ’39
What follows are remembrances of Dr. Whittemore’s impact on the lives of many generations of SKS students.
Thoughts on Charles P “Doc” Whittemore.
When I learned of the passing of Charlie “Doc” Whittemore, my mind naturally reflected on the fact that he had a most positive impact upon my life. I would like to share three qualities that immediately come to mind.
Initially I think back to September in 1951 when as a fifteen-year-old “new Boy” I arrived on the hillside. I recall being most unsure of myself and most apprehensive about surviving in this new environment. I was most fortunate to be assigned to Mr. Whittemore’s table for my first days at SKS. These initial meals (traditional SKS cuisine of the period) were accompanied by stimulating, warm and accepting conversations that quickly set my mind at ease, setting the stage for the learning process of my journey to commence.
I will always recall Doc Whittemore’s final history exam, one question, “The underlying causes of World War One”. We had almost the entire semester to prepare for this exercise and three hours to write our answer. What an excellent opportunity to demonstrate our ability, or lack thereof of critical thinking and critical writing.
Mr. Whittemore, the musician, added a significant dimension to a young man’s life at South Kent. In addition to his magnificent singing voice, he created some more than satisfactory choral music, from the voices of boys who may have just finished tea after a sporting event (Cocoa and blotters). In addition, Charlie was most instrumental; in the creation and support of the “Spring Choral Festival of Secondary Schools”, in 1954 and 1955. This musical endeavor provided a most valuable opportunity for the singers from SKS to sing in a large mixed voice chorus with Orchestra and perform in Hartford’s Bushnell Hall.
The passing of Dr. Charles P. Whittemore, closes the final chapter of the SSB era at South Kent School. He assisted in the creation of a foundation upon which the tradition of, “Simplicity of Life, Directness of Purpose and Self Reliance” will continue to assist young men on their Hero’s Journey.
Foster S. White '55
Ist incident: After "lights out" one evening, a small group of 5th Formers including myself were hunkered down on the lawn area between the New Building and the Infirmary above the parking lot. We were in the process of stringing and burying surplus army field telephone wire between several rooms on the campus to hook up some surplus army field telephones we had found underneath the kitchen. (There were rumors of some spare tank treads somewhere, but we never found 'em!) One of us (not I) had to climb up on the Old Building's roof to toss a hank of cable across the parking lot so we could bury it on the way to the New Building. Unfortunately, we woke C.P. up! The slam of a door, and a "WHAT'S GOING ON OUT THERE!", he shouted. Some of us scattered, leaving the remaining to take the heat.
2nd Incident: It was the evening before finals and a small group of seniors were playing ping-pong in the top floor of the Old Building. All of a sudden who should appear in the doorway but C.P. himself, obviously distraught. Not too happy a bunch of seniors were playing ping-pong that evening!
I recall a nickname for him, at the time. He was refered to as, "The Merry Mortician" because he seemed always to have this dour countenance about him.
Requiescat in pacem, Dr. It took me years to realize what an oportunity my parents had given me by sending me to SKS and you and the other Masters at the school afforded me. And I flat out wasted it! My sincere apologies...
Thomas W. Newbery (aka Newt) '63
People are often surprised when I say I received a better education at South Kent than at my Ivy League college. Two men stand out: “Wuz” Wittenberg taught me how to write; but “Doc” Whittemore taught me how to think.
One Sunday afternoon, I walked into his apartment – the door was always open – to discuss a history assignment. He was sitting at his desk, reading. Before I could say anything, he looked me in the eye and snapped,
“What do you think about capital punishment?”
“Uh, I dunno. Never thought about it.”
“Well you should! It’s important!”
Note that he didn’t say whether he was for it or against it – he just felt it should be on my intellectual radar so I could reach my own conclusion. Needless to say, I read everything I could find on the subject, pro and con. And I’ve continued to study it for nearly 60 years. When I became a professional writer (thanks, Wuz), it was often one of the policy issues I addressed.
This story illustrates a key difference between schools like South Kent and even the best public schools. No, it’s not that a teacher (we called them masters back then) was available on a Sunday afternoon in the days before email. It’s that we often explored and debated issues – segregation, capital punishment, politics, etc. – that would be off-limits in a public school. Better than anyone I’ve encountered since, Charlie made us think about them. Every year, I sent him a Christmas card and thanked him for that gift.
Geoffrey (Jeff) Moore, SKS ‘59
“Doc” Whittemore made quite an impression on me and he left quite a legacy for generations of students at SKS.
To this day I love US History. I default to David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin when looking for a good read. I am fascinated with how small moments of courage, leadership or even happenstance changed the course of history and that takes me back to Doc’s classroom on the first floor of the Schoolhouse Building. He brought those stories to life. He was both challenging and engaging. I volunteered to portray Doc on stage during Skit Night. It was my way of honoring him.
Doc was also my guidance counselor and I’ll never forget when he asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I hadn’t thought about it before. We had just watched the USA Olympic Hockey Team and their Miracle on Ice. I was struck by the ability to share that moment in history with millions of people. That was when I decided I would go into broadcasting. A friendly conversation with Doc on the front porch of the Old Building started me on my way.
Thank you Doc!
Hamilton McCulloh ‘82
Doc Whittemore carries one of my fondest memories to SKS. He lit my fire for American history and the founding fathers, took special care for us international students, invited us to his apartment for discussions or even out for dinner. On a snowy sunday he spontaneously took Kim Last and me for a tour to a cafe in Danbury, we’ve had tea and cakes, talked about everything and the world and he made us feel so appreciated as scholars that I „stole“ the tea spoon and kept it since as a souvenir, preciously hidden in my desk’s right drawer for now thirty years …
Dr. Adrian Kiehn '87
Memory of Mr. Whittemore —
My best memories of Mr. Whittemore were on the baseball diamond. As coach of the Kids team, he was inspirational. Playing at Trinity-Pawling, early in the game I slid into home, beating a late tag. The umpire called me out. The Kids were upset at the call, so Mr. Whittemore called a quick team meeting at the bench. “Forget that call,” he growled. “You guys can beat these bums.” And yes, we did.
Rod Burton '58
"Doc" Whittemore taught me many things, during my five years at South Kent, but three of those things especially stand out, and have far more to do with who I am, who I have been, and the successes I have had, than any of the nonsense about school spirit, directness of purpose, or simplicity of life. First, and most important, he saw my potential, and convinced me of it. Next, he taught me the value of critical thinking, and how to apply it to all areas of 'scholarship' and public and private life. And finally, he taught me to always cut through the bullshit, through the interpretations of others, to examine original source materials and draw my own conclusions. And for those gifts, I will always remember him, and be grateful, and have and will always attempt to pass them on to my students. RIP, CP.
B. D. Colen '66
Recollections of Charlie Whittemore
In my day, faculty members frequently had a half-dozen or so students over to their residence on Sunday afternoon for tea, and “a touch of civility and culture.”
During my Sixth Form year, my roommate and I shared a room that was actually sort of an adjunct to the Library. This would be when the Old Building still had a third floor. The Library was on the third floor.
And, bachelor Charlie’s apartment was accessed through the Library, as well. That must have meant that we have some special connection!
I can remember being very impressed by the fact that Mr. Whittemore had the equipment with which to entertain his guests with recordings of music by the likes of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Puccini, Verdi, Wagner et ali.
I frankly doubt that the tea was anything out of the ordinary, nor necessarily that the accompanying goodies were, either. But, the desired “culture” atmosphere was palpable! I am sure that the love of Classical music originally instilled in me by my Mother was heightened by the couple/three exposures in Charlie’s apartment.
While History was not necessarily my best subject, I can remember being enthralled with it. Much of that love has to be laid at Charlie Whittemore’s feet. He struck me then, as he does even to this day, as the ultimate teacher who not only instilled a love of his subject, but a passion to go further into the field as we moved on to college and subsequently our own lives.
Sort of at the other end of the spectrum:
I believe it was at my 50th Reunion. That’d be in 2004. Charlie Whittemore ventured down from his retirement home in Salisbury to be with us. He was weak and confined to a wheelchair. Not at all the dynamic young man from so many years before.
But, as I greeted him, he knew at once who I was, and even mentioned some private memory of our time together all those years before.
That blew me away.
Later, during that Reunion Weekend, I can recall seeing Charlie “charging” up the hill from the Old Building to the Schoolhouse using his two “sticks” (i.e., canes), and seemingly not feeling any ill effects. On the other hand, I struggled with every step! That would have been one of earliest notions that all those years of smoking might be taking their toll. And, it would have been just about the time that I was diagnosed with COPD.
Rest in Peace Charlie Whittemore.
Stephen W. Rule '54
Charlie was an enjoyable traveling companion. The summer of 1948, he and his older brother asked me to join them in a cross country tour using their parents ’46 Buick Roadmaster sedan for transportation. I’m not sure why they thought I would make a good traveler, but I leapt at the chance having just graduated from School, with no summer plans. I think Charlie’s older brother, Larry, had recently been ordained to the Anglican priesthood (later to be my calling) and we left New Canaan where I believe their parents lived in early July or August of the year. We put nearly 9,000 miles on their folks’ car traveling (outdoor camping) across the northern U.S. to Seattle and up into the Canadian Rockies, down the West Coast to San Francisco (where we spent our only night under a roof in a month) and then back across the country, stopping in Las Vegas to lose a few bucks and back to the East Coast. It was (of course) an extraordinary trip for this recent (at the time) SKS grad. (I believe CPW’s older brother later became Bishop of Harrisburg, PA.) and never in my wildest dreams did I think the experience might have lead me to the Episcopal Church ministry and Chaplaincy at South Kent! But it did! Charlie certainly contributed to my maturation as a teacher in the classroom, on the hillside, a traveling companion, and fellow alumnus and member of the Pigtail Family. I would also like to note that Charlie was the most unathletic faculty member I have ever met and we loved him for it.
Affectionately to the SKS Family
Dick Aiken ’48
(The Right Rev. Ret.) Richard L. Aiken
DOCTOR WHITTEMORE AND THE LIBERAL ARTS
One evening in the fall of 1961, Charlie and I were walking down the roadway alongside the kitchen at SKS when suddenly he said, “Good grief, Jake, I’m forty years old.” I thought, Okay, I’m twenty-six. Where are we going with this? I was just beginning my first year on the South Kent faculty and Charlie was taking me out to dinner as a first step in becoming a mentor. But the story began two decades earlier.
I arrived on the SKS campus as a timid 2nd Former in the fall of 1948. My 6th Form advisor escorted me to the 24 kid newboy dormitory on the third floor of the Schoolhouse and taught me how to wield a broom and dustpan. The next day I reported for the first football practice of the Midget Squad, clad in antiquated pads and an old sweatshirt I should have left at home. That weekend, on Sunday afternoon, I met Charlie.
We had both grown up in New Canaan, CT so maybe it was a hometown push when he urged me try out for the Glee Club. More likely, however, he needed tenors—always in short supply. I stood on the porch of the Old Building and faced Charlie who was seated on a green bench taking notes while I, unable to read music, warbled, “As the blackbird in the spring . . . singing Aura Lee.” I was assigned to the first tenor section. The following year my voice changed, I became a first bass, and we learned to sing a variety of music including “The Magnificat,” “The Pope, He Leads a Jolly Life,” “On Wisconsin,” and Carl Sandburg’s “The Fog Comes in on Little Cat Feet.”
In his cramped apartment known as the Crow’s Nest adjacent to the Library on the third floor of the Old Building, Charlie left the door open on Sunday afternoons and played records so we students (who were not allowed to have record players or radios in our rooms) might listen to the music of composers such as Mozart and Beethoven. Years later, the Martin A. Henry Library was built and, in 1962, the third floor facility was condemned by the Kent Fire Marshal. In earlier days, however, Charlie was a primary source of music education at South Kent.
Eventually, I took Charlie’s two courses in American History, doing decidedly mediocre work in both. Nevertheless, Charlie still took an interest in my progress and in my Fifth Form year, when he was faculty advisor to the Pigtail, he suggested I write profiles of campus individuals. My first article was on the school nurse, Amy F. Lyon, and later I wrote a profile on a cantankerous kitchen worker with the opening line quoting him as saying, “The worst thing that ever happened to me was I got born.” Senior year, I was listed on the Pigtail masthead as “Features Editor” although no one else wrote any features. Thanks to Charlie, this role was the first step toward my second career. After thirty years as a teacher, I became a professional writer
After college and a three-year stint with a publishing house in New York, I returned to SKS as an English teacher. Once more, Charlie entered my life, this time in his role as Director of Studies. Toward the end of my first year, he informed me he would like me to teach a course in Art History. “We can’t afford to graduate kids who don’t know who Michelangelo was.” As a freshman, I had taken an introductory course in Art History but my undergraduate major had been American History so I had to ask Charlie, “Why me?” He replied, “Because you’re the only one on the faculty who knows anything about it.”
We had a some fun developing the course and later, when Wuz Wittenberg intiated the construction of the Bringhurst Science Building, Charlie helped me establish art studios in the vacated science labs that had been housed in the ground floor rooms of the New Building. He even gave up his pet project of setting up a history seminar room in the empty Biology lab. Charlie pretended to be quite grumpy about the “eviction” but as Director of Studies he could have easily overruled me had he wished.
It is no exaggeration to say that Dr. Charles Park Whittemore devoted the best years of his life to South Kent School. I first encountered him when I was an apprehensive newboy and he was relatively new to his chosen profession. He was already more than a gifted teacher of History. Oh sure, he was also Glee Club Director and First Team Baseball coach but that was incidental. There was more. Charlie was an impassioned apostle of liberal arts education. Each academic year he strove to make the school intellectually better than it had been the year before. By this example, he inspired students to stretch beyond their previously imagined limits: The stars might seem inaccsessible, but that perception need not prevent us from reaching.
—Jake Severance, ‘54
6 February 2017
Dr. Charles P. Whittemore was a gentleman of great character and intellect. When I was at School I regarded him as an imposing presence; only in later years did I come to understand how completely devoted he was to giving the boys the best possible foundation for the future, and how deeply he loved South Kent. At the end of our Fifth Form year, he wrote to my Mother to say he thought I should repeat the year. My Mother and Grandmother drove to see CPW in person at his home in Essex at the beginning of the summer, and argued him into permitting me to continue with my class. I was oblivious to this at the time, of course. When my Mother told me about it, years later, I was horrified that she'd dared to face down Doc Whittemore, but thankful she did so - to this day, my dearest friends are from the Class of 1967. I've often wondered how my life would have differed if I had that additional year to mature before heading off to college. Whenever I encountered Dr. Whittemore in subsequent years, it seemed to me he almost expected to hear I had encountered some sort of developmental disaster, and was relieved (and bemused) to hear that I had not. The last of the giants of my youth. Thank you, Charlie! Requiescat In Pace.
Peter M. Thompson
Doc Whittemore was a big man in a very small place, but he would have loomed large anywhere he stood. I idolized him, and we became friends, which is not always how schoolboy relationships with their teachers turn out.
Charlie Whittemore was also one of the reasons that I always looked forward to the start of school and was sad to see it end. Perhaps it was that he made me feel grown up, because it always seemed best to be on best behavior and to be standing on intellectual tiptoes when you were with him. This was despite his reserved nature, smiling beneath his bushy eyebrows after an affable greeting.
Doc Whittemore seemed to take the maturity business pretty literally. One of my most memorable experiences, I think shared over time by each of us in the sixth form, was an invitation for several of us to join him for dinner in his apartment. This was no typical school dinner. After tomato juice (who ever heard of salting and peppering juice? But it was good!) we had steak! And topping it all off was ice cream with crème de menthe served directly from the bottle with the liquor commission sticker on the neck. He treated this as routine and without comment, but of course it was not.
Charlie also happened to be standing outside the post office in the Old Building on April 15th of our sixth form year when a swarm of us descended just before lunch to see whether and where we had been accepted to college. I remember Charlie mentioning offhandedly that a “thick envelope” was waiting for me. That’s hard to forget!
It’s ironic that I never took Charlie’s history course, as I took Judge Woodward’s half course instead for two years with John Dunn and Frank Glennon. As it turned out, I majored in history in college, and now use it all the time in my work. I’ve often wondered how my life might have turned out for the better if I’d had that full year of history with him senior year.
Brewster Perry and I were lucky to be able to go hiking with Charlie in the White Mountains in New Hampshire several years after graduation. It was a great trip, sleeping out and swimming in a mountain lake after our hikes, brushing the pine needles off the dropped spaghetti we were cooking for dinner. I distinctly remember the schoolboyish moment that Brewster and I had when we asked how to address Charlie at the start of the trip. It will surprise no one that the bashfulness was only on our side. “Well, I guess you better call me Charlie.”
I was fortunate to call Charlie a friend. In many ways he was a touchstone in my life, and for me always has been the personification of South Kent.
Paul S. Giarra '67