Amherst Magazine
James Whitney Garberson '70

It is with sadness that I share the loss of our classmate, James Whitney Garberson. Whit died on November 12, 2008, in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. His legacy as a friend, musician and humanitarian is significant.

Burt Woolf remembered Whit as “a tall lanky folkie searching for a more meaningful existence. In 1969, we recorded a session in the recently completed Buckley Recital Hall and Whit’s playing was superb.”

Jeff Southworth added: “I remember Whit as another one of us who thought music was about the most important thing in the world, and that it could change the world for the better.”

Daniel Keller ’69 recalled “Whit embodied beautifully the ideals of our community. He was a full-time volunteer, ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice to hop in a car and go to the aid of a neighbor baling hay or gathering maple sap--and often with a smile and a twinkling of the eye.”

David Yaghjian wrote “In music, Whit was open and aware and frighteningly capable (yet not in the least overbearing). He was patient and considerate and never condescending.”

Jim Aaron of Shutesbury, a mentor in the seventies to many of us who set about living closer to the land, remembered Whit also. “Whit was somebody you contended with, not because he was difficult, but because he was so engaging, in every sense of that word.”

Whit’s path from the Sawmill River valley took him to Iowa, Africa and back to Massachusetts.  After volunteering for the Peace Corps in the Central African Republic, he returned to the US as a consultant for international aid programs.  He then rejoined the Peace Corps as a staff member in Upper Volta—now Bourkina Faso.  In 1983, Whit became a regional director of Oxfam in Rwanda, Burundi, and eastern Zaire. Returning stateside, he earned a masters degree in psychiatric social work from Smith College and worked as a clinical mental health consultant in geriatrics for the next seven years. By 2000, Whit’s interest in disability brought him to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health where he worked to develop public health programs for children with special needs and their families.

At a memorial service this past December, one of Whit’s DPH colleagues, Susan Epstein, read a “letter to Whit” describing his style of leadership. Some excerpts follow:

“Who will be there to push us to do the right thing when perhaps it is harder or slower to do it that way? Who will remind me that whatever we are working on for kids is really part of a much larger effort under the umbrella of human rights and responsibilities? Perhaps we should all take the ‘Whit pledge’ to stay true to our values and highest standards—no waffling! You leave me with so many memories, but always the central themes were mutual respect and the commitment….”

The Whit I knew was a friend and partner in music and other adventures who lovingly fathered my oldest daughter, Alpha, in her formative years and who twice saved her life. Whit was immensely proud of his son, Julian, and according to his close friend, Daniel Cade, and his brother Jeff, he was rarely happier than during his days as a regional director for Oxfam in Africa. Whit grieved deeply for many friends and colleagues impacted by the Rwandan genocide.  And he was torn about not returning to central Africa. But Whit remained enthusiastic in sharing his discoveries. Be it parenting, divining the I Ching, drilling wells in arid land, working out a great guitar line, or perfecting an omelet, Whit did not dabble. He immersed himself fully and channeled his remarkable talents in his quest for knowledge and meaning. Whit’s way in the world was respectful, generous and humane.

We will miss Whit Garberson and offer our deepest sympathy to his family and friends.

—John Anderson ’70

PS Burt Woolf has provided a clip of the Buckley session at www.C4QL.org/Garberson. Enjoy!

 

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