Robert Harriss Whitaker, Sr., age 85, was born January 4, 1930 in Madison, the second son of World War I veteran Barney B. Whitaker, Sr. and Mary Penick Harriss Whitaker of Madison. He died Tuesday evening, December 22 after a lengthy illness. Named for his maternal grandfather Robert Stovall Harriss also of Madison, young Bob grew up in Augusta, in the midst of a loving and loyal family comprised of his parents and his two siblings; an older brother Barney Jr. and a younger sister Mary Harriss. During the early 1930’s, his parents moved the family from Madison to Augusta when the Madison hotel they were managing, the New Morgan Hotel, accidentally burned to the ground.
During the balance of the 1930’s and most of the 1940’s, his parents co-managed the Clarendon Hotel on Broad Street in downtown Augusta. Operating the hotel was a family affair. Having been raised in an environment where the family’s livelihood was a very-public business and also their home, he developed a strong work ethic, a keen mechanical sense, a talent for creative thinking, an appreciation for teamwork and for a job done well, and a spirit of family loyalty. His education was a rich one. He graduated from both Richmond Academy and in 1949 from Augusta Junior College. Following this, he earned an undergraduate degree in aeronautical engineering in 1952 from the Georgia Institute of Technology where he was a member of both the national Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity and the Tau Omega Honorary Fraternity. He was also a student member of the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences.
Subsequently, he also earned an MBA degree from Georgia State University. As a young boy, Bob had developed a passion for and understanding of aeronautics as he became skilled at building award-winning model airplanes. His parents encouraged his interest: his mother assisted him in model building while his father ultimately bought him a surplus bright yellow J-3 Piper Cub airplane and arranged for his flying lessons. He quickly earned his pilot’s license. At age 19 he would frequently take off from Augusta’s Daniel Field and fly across Georgia in his J-3 between Augusta, Madison, Brunswick, St. Simons, Jekyll Island, and Atlanta. In the late 1940s, Bob’s father won a contract from the State of Georgia to operate the hotel on state-owned Jekyll Island. This was a time when the island could only be accessed by either water or air. Consequently, the family relied upon Bob’s skill from time to time to pilot his J-3 to ferry passengers and supplies by air between the mainland and the island. Upon graduation in 1952, he married Margaret Anne Rodgers of McDonough. The two had met on Jekyll Island in 1949 while the Whitaker family had been operating the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. The same year, he received his officer’s commission in the United States Air Force and served during the Korean War years. He was stationed principally at Warner Robbins Air Force Base (GA) and Eglin Air Force Base (FL.) After Korea, he continued to pursue his life-long interest in aviation, and was blessed to turn this avocation into a vocation. He would spend the next 34 years as an aeronautical engineer and flight control specialist for Lockheed-Georgia in Marietta, a member of perhaps the very last generation that knew and skillfully used a slide-rule as one of the daily tools of their trade.
Upon his retirement in 1988, he was privileged to have participated in design work on most of Lockheed-Georgia’s products: Jetstar, Hummingbird, C-130, C-141, C-5A, and the C-130 High Technology Test Bed (HTTB). In the mid-50’s, “Bob and Peg” made their home north of Atlanta in Sandy Springs and became parents to two children, Bob Jr. and Kathy. Bob’s engineering skill enabled him to design the floor plan and exterior of a new home when his growing family required more space. He also enjoyed working with his hands. Before car engines became computerized, he regularly tuned his own cars changing out all plugs, points, leads, filters, coolants, and oil. He taught himself how to strip, restore, and refinish furniture. Having both grown up as Christians and regular in their church attendance, Bob and Peg became charter members of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs. Here, Bob served regularly as both a Deacon and a boys’ Sunday School teacher. He also served terms as Training Union director and Finance Committee chairman. They subsequently became charter members at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Cobb County. Bob was an ardent fisherman having inherited this passion from his father. He often praised the beauty of picturesque lakes he passed surmising the fishing there must be good. He also had an appreciation and ear for music having a fine tenor voice. Along with brother Barney, he learned to play the accordion. They would enjoy performing together often for various civic and veterans affairs. He also enjoyed playing the saxophone. Bob was always characterized by a ready smile and a keen, dry sense of humor. Yet, he also had a humble, gentle, and generous spirit.
Over the years, many charities in addition to his church were recipients of his quiet benevolent stewardship. Robert Harriss Whitaker, Sr. is preceded in death by his father, mother, brother, and sister. He is survived by his wife Margaret Anne Rodgers Whitaker of Kennesaw, his son Robert Harriss Whitaker, Jr. of Powder Springs, and wife Cynthia, and daughter Mary Kathleen Whitaker Jones also of Powder Springs with husband Gary. Surviving also are the following: grandchildren Erin Kate Whitaker, Sarah Caroline Whitaker Wishon and husband Jonathan, Marcus Alexander Whitaker III, Hannah Leigh Jones Fischer and husband Barrett, and Ian Whitaker Jones, great-grand daughter Evelyn Lois Wishon, nieces Mary Elizabeth Bailey Hodges and son Tyler and Lydia Leigh Bailey Brown and husband Michael with their son Cary and daughter Callie, nephew Barney B. Whitaker III and wife Fran with son Daniel and daughter Mary Alston, sister-in-law Jerusha Ray Whitaker and brother-in-law Heyward H. Bailey. Arrangements were made by Mayes Ward-Dobbins Funeral Home of Powder Springs, GA. Visitation was at their Macland Road location from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday afternoon, December 28 followed immediately by a memorial service at 2 p.m. Interment was at the City Cemetery in Madison at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, December 30. Mayes Ward-Dobbins Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements. Allen L Guertin Mayes Ward Dobbins Funeral Home 3940 Macland Rd. Powder Springs GA 30127 770-943-1511