Shirley Mae Whitaker
August 29, 1930 - January 16, 2018
Shirley Mae Whitaker, 87, died January 16 in Waco, Texas. She was born August 29, 1930, in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of Paul and Mae Geddes. Shirley grew up in Cleveland, graduating from East High School. She often recalled with pride her vibrant, ethnically mixed neighborhood around East 65th Street as a harmonious example of America's "melting pot" concept.
She married Thomas Whitaker in Cleveland in 1951, after meeting at the wedding of mutual friends. They raised two sons in Worthington, just north of Columbus. She recalled with amusement lively evenings during the late 1960s and '70s when her husband and sons debated tumultuous political issues of the day over the dinner table, culminating with laughter and love over dessert. Asked years later what she made of the spectacle, she replied: "I always learned something." She also instilled in her sons a passion for nature through family hikes after outdoor breakfasts at Blendon Woods and walks along the Olentangy River, to the degree the Whitaker home on Evening Street sometimes threatened to become a menagerie of reptiles, amphibians and other creatures from nearby trails and streams. At one point, when her son Danny's pet snake slipped out of its terrarium and began exploring the household, Shirley used a kitchen pan to corral the reptile until her son arrived home from school. Near the end of her life, she occasionally ruminated on the simple but uplifting joys and fulfillment of the family hearth, including "two boys and a dog"—long-ago recollections that somehow remained intact even as much else faded from memory.
After their children left home to forge careers, Shirley and Tom lived many happy years in Canton, Ohio. She frequently enjoyed solitude and reflection in the chapel of the neighboring Sancta Clara Monastery, the rustic simplicity and culinary offerings of the rolling, nearby Amish countryside and the proximity of lifelong friends, including Fran Imhof Wilmore, whom she'd known since they were three and next-door neighbors. As youths, the girls spent many joyous hours on the 107-acre Imhof family farm southeast of Cleveland, doing everything from ice-skating in winter to reading books together in hay bales during fair weather.
In 2004 Tom and Shirley moved to Waco to be near family. For the next three years, she selflessly devoted herself to caring for her husband, who had Alzheimer's.
Her favorite pastimes were sewing, decoupage, swimming, walking, working in her yard and reading—the latter a pursuit she encouraged in both her sons. She read to each of her children when they were very young and bribed her older son, as a child, into forsaking his obsessive love of comic books by paying him 50 cents for each book he read from the nearby library, a plot that almost strained the Whitaker budget. As teens, the boys occasionally joked which of them would inherit a 1913, 10-volume set of world history. Shirley's own reading covered a wide range, from beloved British mysteries to the New York Times. (After telling her visiting daughter-in-law that the peace and quiet of Sancta Clara Monastery would make a great environment in which to read murder mysteries, she found great humor at the suggestion she slip one of her mysteries into a biblical book jacket and do so.) Her humor remained intact throughout life. Near the end, when she battled encroaching forgetfulness, she jokingly told her son Bill that she no longer needed to visit a nearby bookstore or library to procure new mysteries because she could read the old ones in her personal library, by then confident she couldn't remember who committed any number of murders. She loved the family Christmas tree bedecked in blue lights (always her favorite color), a passion she surrendered only reluctantly to her children's pleas for multicolors; she believed, as her own mother did, that having boys obligated her to bake cookies regularly; and she demonstrated uncommon tolerance, even when the family Airedale made off with a good-sized ham. Shirley also had a quiet spirituality and unquestioning faith. She once said she had no fear of flying—she just closed her eyes and imagined she was in the hands of God.
A private memorial service will be held later at Chester (Ohio) Cemetery.
Shirley was preceded in death by her parents; brother, Bill, in 1973; son, Danny, in 1980; and husband, Tom, in 2007.Survivors include a son and daughter-in-law, Bill and Ann Whitaker, of Waco, Texas; brother- and sister-in-law, James and Jane Whitaker, of Greeneville, TN; sister-in-law, Maris Whitaker, of Boulder, CO; and several nieces and nephews, including Jody Geddes Franco of Cleveland of whom she was especially fond.
Please make any donations to the Salvation Army or any charity of your choice.