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Bert Whittemore, a man of many passions, remembered

  • Photos on posters are seen at a reception for Bert Whittemore at the Kimball House in Concord on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. Whittemore passed away on Dec. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Photo albums covered tables at a reception for Bert Whittemore at the Kimball House in Concord on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. Whittemore passed away on Dec. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Photos on posters are seen at a reception for Bert Whittemore at the Kimball House in Concord on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. Whittemore passed away on Dec. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • People look at posters honoring Bert Whittemore at a reception following Whittemore’s memorial service at the Kimball House in Concord on Saturday. Whittemore passed away on Dec. 28. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • People take feathers in memory of Bert Whittemore at a reception following a memorial service Whittemore at the Kimball House in Concord on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. Whittemore passed away on Dec. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

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Monitor staff
Sunday, January 07, 2018

At the reception after his funeral, at the Capitol Center for the Arts, Bert Whittemore’s daughter, Ayn Whytemare, handed out turkey feathers.

Turkeys are smart, social animals. And despite their bald, bumpy heads, they strut around proudly.

“He was completely unapologetic about his imperfections. And he allowed other people to be that way too,” Whytemare said.

Whittemore died Dec. 28 at the age of 83, in the same house he had grown up in on Pembroke Street. His funeral service was held Saturday at the Pembroke Congregational Church – the same place Whittemore’s ancestor, Aaron Whittemore, had preached in the 1730s.

Though Whittemore spent some years away from the town – he went to college at Dartmouth, later traveled with the Navy and worked for a time in Boston – Pembroke is where he settled. Whether because of his deep roots in the area, his gregarious nature – or likely, both – he made community a central and defining part of his life.

“Bert always tried to make the circle larger,” said Charles Thompson of Wilmot, who used to live in Pembroke.

Whittemore ran a commercial real estate business out of the Patriot Building on Park Street, just across from the State House, and developed properties across New Hampshire. But it was his manifold causes, community projects, and hobbies that he was largely remembered for.

“He was that part of the building that kept it up and you never knew it was there,” said Tom Petit, Pembroke’s long-time town moderator.

He was key in finally getting Pembroke’s town library built, and in supporting the Boys and Girls Club in Suncook. At church, he sang in the choir for awhile, fundraised and sat on committees. He was involved in the Pembroke and New Hampshire historical societies, and the Concord Snowshoe Club. An avid rower, the Concord Crew boathouse bears his name.

“He always had interesting ideas with projects. Like the library. He wanted to get us all to go and work on the library and help out with it. It was the community that made him special,” said Janet Anderson, a neighbor and friend.

Decades ago, David Ruedig and Whittemore used to do on-air fundraisers for the WEVO radio station.

“Bert was the piano accompaniment – and the egger-on-er with his big laugh,” Ruedig said.

But Ruedig also knew Whittemore in other ways: through choir, because they worked next to each other.

“I knew Bert a million ways – the way everybody else did,” he said.

Whittemore was also known for mountain climbing, a hobby he picked up in middle-age after a doctor warned him his health was slipping. Friends and family remembered an enthusiastic, unwavering climber, who set out on hikes no matter the weather. He went on to summit all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountains.

“If Dad had a bucket list, it certainly wasn’t written down. He just did everything and to the fullest,” said his daughter, Susan Chrabolowski.

After Whittemore’s wife, Kevin Keeler Sleigh Whittemore, died in 1981, he raised Whytemare and Chrabolowski by himself. He never tried to replace Kevin, Whytemare said – he just tried to be the best father he could.

“He was always family first,” Whytemare said.

Color blind, Whittemore had a habit of wearing mismatched socks and clashing colors.

“He would come in with the weirdest outfits you’d ever saw,” said Daniel Lord, who supervised maintenance at the Patriot Building.

But the eccentric clothing – Whytemare fondly remembered socks with holes, on display in Birkenstocks – was also a reflection of a fiercely independent personality.

Well into his 70s, Whittemore would climb onto the Patriot Building’s roof, Lord said, to adjust his radio antenna because he wanted his classical music to sound just right.

At church, he always had a word for the organist, George Bozeman, after the service.

“He always had some comment about the music. Sometimes he would chide me because I didn’t make the hymns fast enough. He liked them to move along with spirit,” Bozeman said, smiling.

And it wasn’t uncommon for him to up and leave a meeting if it dragged on past his liking – which usually wasn’t too long.

“He didn’t like long speeches. By anybody. He had a two-minute rule. That was it,” said his companion for the last half-decade, Holly VanLeuven.

But if Whittemore had a mind of his own, he still engaged with – and respected – what other people had to say.

Joe Paul knew Whittemore from church. When Paul’s grandson, Deon Mendez, was going through his confirmation, it was Whittemore that he picked to mentor him. They had singing in common, a love of sports – and an argumentative streak. Paul thinks that’s what made them click.

“When you talked to Bert, you saw another side of something. And if he disagreed, he wouldn’t be disagreeable or disrespectful, but he would get you into a conversation where you thought just a little bit more about it,” Paul said.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)