Robert Jennings Whitaker, Sr., Naval aviator, railroad engineer, playwright, musician, sailor and craftsman

Robert Jennings Whitaker, Sr. (Courtesy of H.D. Oliver Funeral)
Robert Jennings Whitaker, Sr. (Courtesy of H.D. Oliver Funeral)

Robert Jennings Whitaker, Sr. died peacefully in his sleep on Friday, November 13, 2015 at Kempsville Health & Rehab Center in Virginia Beach.

Born November 23, 1929 to the late Morgan and Virginia Whitaker, Bob grew up in Bandy, Tazewell, and Bluefield, VA. He graduated from Tazewell High School, played the drums in local jazz dance bands, and attended Concord College on a music scholarship before joining the U.S. Navy in 1950. Serving initially as a hospital corpsman, he went to Naval Flight School in Pensacola, FL, becoming a Naval Aviator of the F4U Corsair. He flew and landed on aircraft carriers and served in Reykjavik, Iceland, Corpus Christi, TX, and Key West, FL.

Following his honorable discharge from the Navy in 1955, he began a nearly three-decade career in management with the Norfolk and Western Railway (now Norfolk Southern). He began working on the railroad in his teens as a water boy and went on to serve as yardmaster at Lamberts Point Coal Terminal in Norfolk as well as superintendent of N&W divisions in Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana, retiring in 1979 as Director of the N&W Systems Operation Center in Roanoke. He was also a railroad engineer and drove N&W freight trains at times during the 1970s.

Bob was a supremely talented man, and mastered almost everything he undertook. He was a musician (drums, piano, organ, guitar, harmonica); a photographer who developed his own photos; a craftsman who made wood furniture, a pontoon boat, and metal jewelry, lamps, and wall hangings; a sailor who expertly sailed his 25-foot sailboat on Smith Mountain Lake; an expert at sewing; an electronics wiz who built his own PCs; and a writer who penned a play that was produced at Duke University. He was also a Freemason and member of Yondota Lodge 572 of Toledo, OH.

He is survived by his loving and devoted wife of 46 years, Margaret H. Whitaker; a son, the Rev. Robert J. Whitaker, Ph.D., and wife, Helene Kathryn Whitaker; and a grandson, Andrew Morgan Whitaker—all of Virginia Beach. A memorial service was held Sunday, November 22, 2015 at St. John’s Anglican Church, 804 Gammon Road, Virginia Beach, VA.

The family asks that contributions in Bob’s honor be made to the Princess Anne Courthouse Rescue Squad, P.O. Box 6344, Virginia Beach, VA 23456. Leave condolences for the family at H.D. Oliver.

To view the full list of Southside Daily obituaries, click here.

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