Thomas Russell Whitaker
Thomas Russell Whitaker, 95, of Chester passed away Dec. 24, 2020, at Middlesex Hospital, after a short illness. Born in 1925 in Marquette, Michigan, Dr. Whitaker was the son of Joe Russell Whitaker and Sarah Genevieve Houk Whitaker.
A man of great intellect, Dr. Whitaker’s passion was his love of learning and conveying the inspiration of literature and drama to generations of students. He instilled in his children a love of art, beauty, and language that has shaped their lives. An avid traveler, his research led him and his family to spend extended periods in Mexico, England, Ireland, and France. In retirement, his constant companion was his wife Ann, and together they enjoyed many years of travel, theater, and art.
Dr. Whitaker, instilled with a love of learning at a young age, attended Oberlin College, where he graduated in 1949 with a bachelor of arts, summa cum laude. Inspired by the many teachers he admired at Oberlin, he then chose a teaching career. Seeking to integrate his love of literature and history into his career, he went on to attend Yale University, where he achieved a master of arts in 1950, and a PhD in English literature in 1953.
From 1944 to 1946, during World War II, Dr. Whitaker served in the U.S. Army in the Engineering Corps, returning to Oberlin to complete his undergraduate degree.
In June, 1950, Dr. Whitaker married Dorothy Barnes, the mother of his four children. After her passing, he married Joan Horwitt (1999 to 2002). In June 2003, he married his present wife, Ann Whitaker. He is survived by his wife Ann; his children Thomas O’Hara, Sarah Mae, Mary Beth and Gwendolyn Anne; and his granddaughter Sarah Anne Whelan.
Early in his career, Dr. Whitaker accepted a position teaching at Oberlin College, where he stayed until he reached the rank of full professor (1952 to 1964). From Oberlin, he went to Goddard College, where he held the position of Literature Teacher for two years (1964-1966). In 1966, he assumed the role of professor of English at the University of Iowa, remaining in this position until 1975. In 1975, more than two decades after receiving his formal degrees from Yale, he returned to Yale as professor of English, and was honored as the Frederick W. Hilles Professor of English in 1989. He served as the chair of the Yale English Department for six years (1979 to 1985) and as a professor of theater studies for nine years, before his retirement in 1995.
A respected voice in the academic community, Dr. Whitaker served as a writer and advisor for the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute from 1998 to 2002, and as an advisor with the Yale National Initiative from 2002 to 2012. Also, in New Haven, he did volunteer work for Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, using his baritone voice and love of literature in the creation of many recordings.
Dr. Whitaker has published widely in the fields of poetry and drama. His books include Swan and Shadow: Yeats’s Dialogue with History (two editions), William Carlos Williams (two editions), Tom Stoppard (two editions), Fields of Play in Modern Drama, and Mirrors of Our Playing: Paradigms and Presences in Modern Drama. He also wrote the narrative for the video script “Excellence in Teaching: Agenda for Partnership,” was recognized from 1993 to 2009 as chairman of the editorial board of On Common Ground, and in 1991 edited Teaching in New Haven: The Common Challenge. He was an active member of the Modern Language Association.
In recognition of his numerous career accomplishments, Dr. Whitaker was awarded the Seton Elm-Ivy Award from the City of New Haven and Yale University in 2005, as well as the Harbison Award for Gifted Teaching from the Danforth Foundation in 1972. A former fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, he was also elected a fellow of National Endowment for the Humanities Huntington Library in 1981.
A memorial service will be planned for the late spring. In lieu of flowers, the family would welcome a gift to Berea College, CPO 2216, Berea KY 40404, or St. Johns’ Episcopal Church, 129 Ledge Hill Road, North Guilford, CT 06437.
Arrangements are in care of the Guilford Funeral Home, 115 Church Street, Guilford. To share a memory or leave condolences, visit www.guilfordfuneralhome.com.