Iantha Whittaker

1910-2011

Iantha Whittaker
1910-2011
Iantha Whittaker was born October 13, 1910, in Washington, D.C. Her parents enrolled her in Washington’s Maret School in 1914, which she attended until her high school graduation in 1926, with Maret’s very first graduating class. The Maret School was founded in Washington, DC in 1910, the year of her birth, and its distinguishing feature was that the teachers were French and the entire curriculum was taught in the French Language. She is thought to be the first student to attend the school from kindergarten through graduation. In the fall of 1926 she registered for classes at George Washington University and was a teacher’s helper at the Maret School in the mornings. The traditional French education sharpened her learning abilities and opened for her the world of French literature and introduced her to French friends. She spent the summer of 1929 in France with her good friend from school, a French war orphan of the First World War, adopted an raised by the Maret sisters. In August 1930, she married Gerald Whittaker whom she had met through her music teacher. She played classical music, and piano accompaniments for violin and cello students, as well as trios, piano quartets and quintets. She began studying organ in 1928, and after a year’s study in Washington, She enrolled in Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore where she studied organ and piano. While commuting on the train, she met another Peabody student, coloratura soprano, Eleanor Carrico Samsel, late of Crofton, Maryland, who once sang at the White House for the Roosevelts. The two became fast friends and continued to visit and make music together for 75 years. On February 1, 1931, Iantha’s parents, Dr. Earnest W. Smith and Jane King Smith, and her 16 year old brother, Joy, were killed in an automobile accident while returning from visiting relatives in Richmond, Virginia. Only Iantha and her brother, Paul Smith, survived the crash. After returning to Peabody, Iantha received her Teacher’s Certificate, in May 1933. Her husband, Gerald Whittaker, was an astronomer at the Naval Observatory, and they built a house in Westmoreland Hills and moved there in 1937. She tutored in French, played chamber music weekly, and taught piano. Iantha and Gerald attended All Souls Unitarian Church in the 1930s and 40s. In 1949, Iantha, Gerald and their five children moved to Florida where Gerald became the director of a new Navy Time Station west of Perrine.

The family moved to South Miami in November 1951, where they joined the Miami Unitarian Church in 1951. They frequently hosted international students from France and Germany, who maintained social ties with the family and exchanged visits through three generations. All five of Iantha’s children were taught musical instruments, and a newspaper article in the Miami Herald in the 1950s featured the family, who played classical chamber music together evenings instead of watching television. Her son and a granddaughter went on to become professional musicians, playing with the Boston Pops, Baltimore Concert Artists, and other orchestras. Her daughter was active with the administration for the DC Youth Orchestra. Their home was frequently visited by amateur and professional musicians for impromptu after dinner chamber music, and large numbers of people over for dinner was not uncommon. Iantha enrolled at the University of Miami, and in 1969, was awarded a bachelor’s degree. She taught a French conversation class one evening a week, the fees from which were donated to Miami’s Unitarian Church. From 1953 until 1971, she was organist at the First Unitarian Church of Miami. Several years later she was choir director for a few years and sang with the choir until 2000. Gerald retired in 1963 and they enjoyed trips over the years to France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. After Gerald died in 1973 she continued her activities in the Unitarian church Women’s Alliance and choir, French conversation classes, some piano students, and in the summers, three months away visiting family and friends. One summer she went with a friend to China. Another year, I went with her brother Paul and his wife adventuring from Luxemburg through Germany and Yugoslavia to Greece and back by ferry to Italy and France. One summer she went camping in the western national parks, Yosemite and Glacier to Edmonton where we visited a former Miamian, Neil Fertel then a professor at the university there. Once she went to Vancouver and took a freighter up the Inside Passage as far as a small town in southern Alaska. She subsequently made several trips to France and England alone to visit friends. At age 80 she hiked along Billy Goat Trail at Great Falls on the Potomac. Up to 2010, she made an annual summer peregrination to Washington DC to visit her prodigy and attend Unitarian Churches with her progeny in Bethesda, Reston, Rockville, Washington, DC, Silver Spring, Annapolis and Bowie. She was the principal attendant at the home births of grandchildren in Kensington in 1963 and Reston in 1990. In Miami’s Matheson Hammock Park off the Biscayne Bay, Iantha was a well known presence as a result of her salt water swim, almost daily, for the last 60 years, weather and rides permitting. She was surprised on October 2010 as she entered the water for her usual 30 minute swim, by TV wild life naturalist Hunter Reno, a news crew from NBC Miami, and a proclamation from the mayor of South Miami, on the day of her 100th birthday. She is survived by her five children, eight grandchildren, and fifteen great grandchildren.

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