Obituary for Francis Hale "Whit" Whitcomb
Francis “Whit” Hale Whitcomb
Son, Brother, Student, Friend, Soldier, Educator, Husband, Father, Uncle, Politician, Farmer, Grandfather, Great-grandfather. Francis Hale Whitcomb, otherwise known as “Whit” to family and friends, took his last peaceful breath surrounded by his beloved wife and children on the Summer Solstice. He was 94. He was blessed to be able to remain on their family farm in South Albany through this journey.
Born in New York City to James and Josephine Whitcomb, He attended Hoosac School and Bard College earning Bachelors in Education. In his lifelong pursuit of education, he went on to collect Masters in Education from The Putney Graduate School, and a Masters in Conservation from the University of Michigan.
In between his education pursuits, he served his country in World War II. Stationed overseas with The Army Air Corp later known as the Air Force, Whit worked as an Air Traffic Controller and assisted in construction of temporary airport infrastructure.
After the war, Whit accepted a teaching position at The Hickory Ridge School in Putney VT. He taught there until it burned to the ground in the early 1950’s. Whit then resumed his education and after completing a Masters program at the Putney Graduate School, he accepted a teaching position at The North Country School in Lake Placid, NY. It was there where he met his partner in life, Patricia Jane Hale. On December 19th, 1953, they married. 63 years of marriage was celebrated this past December. In 1962, Whit and Pat moved to New Canaan, CT, to teach history and English at The New Canaan Country Day School.
1966 brought Whit back to Putney along with Pat, now with three little ones in tow, Marian, Jennifer and David. It was at The Grammar School where Whit not only continued to shape young minds in the classroom but stepped forward to take on the role of headmaster of this progressive private elementary school until 1973.
It was the fall of that year that started Whit’s hiatus from teaching. The family moved to South Albany, VT, to setup a small family farm. It was on this small homestead that a lifelong goal of owning a maple sugaring operation was realized. Armed with his UM Master’s Thesis topic on Maple Sugaring, and practical experience from operating and teaching this 300 year old New England tradition during his days in Lake Placid, he embarked on cultivating the sugar woods that were so abundant on that 350 acre haven they now called home. These “sugarwoods” reignited a passion for the industries history and provided a sugaring community that he immersed himself in. He and his character-filled sugar house aged together, and he embraced this life on their family farm: Hand tapping and hanging buckets on his majestic maples, gathering sap through knee deep snow and boiling till dawn to make his “liquid gold”. The warmer months were dedicated to prepping for the next sugaring season, haying the fields for the various livestock that they had accumulated and reaping the benefits of Pat’s glorious vegetable gardens.
In 1981, Whit returned to the classroom, accepting a position at Lake Region Union High School in Orleans VT. It was perhaps, his truest calling, his purest gift, developing and impacting young minds for the future. A 45 year educator of History, Geography and English, he remained at Lake Region until his retirement in 1988.
Whit was also a passionate world traveler, experiencing the lands of Ireland, England, Italy, Switzerland, France, India, Morocco, Egypt, and The entire United States. He was in his 91st year when The Grand Canyon spoke to him. Taking a side trip from visiting his sister in New Mexico, he was in awe of it vastness, as we now are in awe of his life.
Whit was immensely proud of his three children and their families. He was proud of who they are and the lives they were living. He also had the unique honor of being a very present force in his many grandchildren’s lives. He leaves his beloved wife of 63 years, Patricia as well as their children Marian Guihan, along with her husband, Peter and their two sons, Benjamin and Samuel. Jennifer Elliott and her Husband Clarke and David Whitcomb, his wife Kim and their children, Christopher, Alex, Annalise, Kimberly, Taylor and Grace. In 2002 he had the honor of becoming a Great Grandfather to Christopher’s son Jayden. Whit also leaves nine nieces and nephews that treasured his presence in their lives.
Whit was a very active member of his community. He ran for Vermont State Representive for Orleans County at least 8 times on the democratic ticket, each time edging closer to holding that coveted seat.
He was a member of the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church, was Chairman of the board of lister’s for the town of Albany as well as Town Moderator. He was a Justice of the Peace, uniting many local couples in marriage who he remained in touch with. Whit was a member of The Orleans County Farm Bureau and past President of the Orleans County Maple Producers Association and a Former Director of Maple Sugar Makers Association.
Whit’s passing has left a true void in his families lives as well as the many communities that he had resided and committed to throughout his life. He was an eternal optimist, a searcher of truth, and of tolerance. He had a never ending curiosity and compassion for the lives around him, a thirst for knowledge and was most joyous when he was in the presence of his family.
Whit is predeceased by his parents, James and Josephine Whitcomb, an older brother, David Whitcomb and his wife Beatrice and a younger sister Priscilla Ford and her husband Benjamin.
In the immediate days preceding his passing, he was blessed with a constant community presence, his family at his side and a nightly bourbon cocktail…or two…
Although this is not an all inclusive list but in these final days, his family would like to thank Earl and Joanna Kinsey, Andy Paonessa and Megan Stotko, Paul Lisai, Sarah Baker, Danielle and Cheyenne Draper and their family, Diane Mansfield, The East Craftsbury Presbyertrian Church Community and everyone at Northeast Kingdom Home Health and the Visiting Nursing Association. These two agencies allowed Whit to stay in the comfort of the family farm in South Albany until he took his last breath.
A Celebration of Whit’s life will be held at The East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church on July 16th at 2pm. A reception will follow. All are welcome to attend and share memories as he touched so many lives. There was nothing Whit loved more than a good party.
In lieu of flowers, Whit would appreciate a contribution to either the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church or The Orleans County Maple Sugar Association.
The family also invites you to share your memories and condolences by visiting www.awrfh.com.