Beloved faculty member Ron Whittle P’80 ’82, who served for over a decade as History Department Chair, a teacher, librarian, and coach, passed away August 17, 2021, from complications of Parkinson’s disease, according to his daughter Sarah Stoffel ’82.
“My dad started his teaching career at The Gunnery many years ago,” said Stoffel, who grew up on campus with her brother, Jonathan Whittle ’80, and attended the school as a freshman before transferring to Choate Rosemary Hall, where her father also taught. “The family has such fond memories of The Gunnery.”
A native of Massachusetts, Ron Whittle was born in Worcester on August 11, 1938. He graduated in 1956 from Major Beal High School in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, where he was co-captain of the baseball team in his senior year and served as editor of both the yearbook and school newspaper. He matriculated to Brown University, where he played freshman baseball and was a member of the varsity track team, graduating in 1960 with a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in sociology and anthropology. He earned his master’s in history from Clark University in 1962. He and his wife, Carol, were married on August 12, 1961, and arrived at what was then The Gunnery as newlyweds two weeks later.
“I came directly from graduate school with no teaching experience and neither one of us had any experience with the world of boarding schools,” Whittle reflected in 2013, on the occasion of the Class of 1963’s 50th reunion. “During our first year at The Gunnery we also became parents – again without experience. We adjusted with the help of colleagues, had fun, and developed friendships that have lasted a lifetime. Except for four years at a day school in Westport during the mid-60s, we were at The Gunnery until 1979 – yes, Oggie Miller H’69 P’50 ’54 ’55 had the good sense to hire me twice!”
Whittle taught history, specializing in U.S. history and the Civil War, and served as History Department Chair and Librarian. He was also Head Coach of Boys Varsity Hockey, Assistant Coach for Varsity Football and a member of the Curriculum Committee and Executive Committee.
He left The Gunnery briefly, to teach at Greens Farms Academy from 1964‒1968, and was later an instructor in anthropology at Mattatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury for two terms. He was reappointed as Chairman of the History Department and Librarian at The Gunnery from 1968‒1979. In 1975, then Head of School C. Burgess Ayres asked Whittle to assist Adam Korpalski, a local resident and friend of the school, with his research for a book, which was ultimately published as “The Gunnery 1850‒1975: A Documentary History of Private Education in America.” Ayres also credited Whittle with revising the history curriculum at the school.
“He has extremely high expectations for himself, his colleagues and his students,” then Assistant Headmaster Michael Eanes H’90 P’90 GP’20 ’23 ’25 said of Whittle in 1977, the same year he was appointed Secretary to the Faculty. “He is meticulous about class preparations and paper grading. He has a great deal of pride in whatever he produces; it is always first-rate.”
"Ron was a beloved teacher, coach and dorm master. He was the epitome of the triple threat, winning affection from his students in all three spheres," Eanes said upon learning of Whittle's passing this week.
Ed Small, the Anne S. and Ogden D. Miller Senior Master, recalled the positive and lasting influence Whittle had on new faculty. “When The Gunnery went coed in 1977, there was a large contingent of new faculty members brought on board to take the place of the Wykeham Rise faculty of our sister school on Wykeham Road. Wally Rowe H’57 P’77 ’79 and Ron Whittle mentored the new faculty for a few years before they moved on to Governor’s and Choate, respectively. Before they left, they both conveyed the importance of being professional and the necessity of putting the students’ needs before your own. Ron in particular led by example. He taught us to learn from our mistakes, and to value getting better every day. He would say that teaching is a craft that you had to learn. Ron was a good example to follow. He led well.”
From his home in New Hampshire, Rowe shared memories of time spent with Whittle, who was one of his closest friends. At The Gunnery, they taught and coached each other’s children. They traveled together, sometimes on their own, sometimes with their wives (both named Carol) and with their families. When he and Whittle were in the market for new cars, they unknowingly purchased exactly the same model Ford station wagon. Whittle's was butterscotch, Rowe's was red and they discovered their keys were interchangeable. They also co-taught a class. “Ron and I taught a course together on the 1920's, and we used ‘Only Yesterday,’ a historical book about the disruption of the ’20s. I did the literary part of it and he did the history. We sat in on each other’s lectures. We said we would never do it again; we were exhausted. But we had a very good time.”
The two traveled to Spain, England, Germany, China, and France. “We had a lot of funny things happen in Paris. Ron was a good looking man and when we were in Paris, we went shopping at various places. We went to see a fashion show at Galeries Lafayette. Then afterward, we went to get various things to bring back with us, food and such from a charcuterie. There was a rather attractive young woman who waited on us and after we left, she figured out we gave her a few francs too much. It was a nominal amount, but she ran a few blocks after us, calling ‘Mr. Whittle!’” Rowe recalled, laughing at the memory.
In 2019, when the school offered an opportunity to name a seat in the Tisch Family Auditorium, Rowe purchased one for himself, and one for Whittle. “I got him a seat next to me,” Rowe said, and Whittle wrote to thank him. “He said, ‘you're kind of like the brother I never had.’” It was a sentiment Rowe was happy to return.
Former faculty member and Senior Master Russ Elgin, who arrived at The Gunnery in 1975, coached hockey with Whittle and remembered how much they savored a win over Canterbury in 1979, following a challenging season. The two have remained good friends through the years and Elgin recalled how much Ayres admired Whittle’s knowledge as a fellow historian.
Active in his community, Whittle was a Babe Ruth League baseball coach in Massachusetts, and in Washington served as a Trustee of Gunn Memorial Library, Chairman of the Gunn Historical Museum and a coach for Washington Youth Hockey. He was also an active member of St. John’s Church.
In 1979, Whittle accepted a position at Choate, where he served as Chair of the History Department, coached a variety of sports, and worked part-time in the college counseling office. His family moved with him to Wallingford, with the exception of Jonathan, who completed his senior year as The Gunnery's Head Prefect.
As their children completed or neared the end of their respective college careers, he and his wife considered moving closer to their summer home on the coast of Maine, and Whittle was hired as Associate Dean of Admissions at Colby College, where he spent 15 years. He retired in 2001 and the couple enjoyed spending time in Belfast, where their waterfront home had an unobstructed view of Castine and the mountains of Mt. Desert Island. They remained active in their church and civic organizations, traveled and had a wide circle of friends. Whittle played tennis and golf and became a teacher and student at the local senior college. They spent winters in Florida with Stoffel and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“Our memories of The Gunnery are uniformly positive and, until our move to Maine, really considered Washington as home. It is difficult to choose from among those memories but coaching football with Rod Beebe, hockey on the ponds with Tony Golembeske, and team teaching with Wally Rowe were, as I am sure you can imagine, truly unforgettable,” he recalled in 2013. “I attribute any success I had as a teacher to my years at The Gunnery. I profited greatly from the help – and criticism – I received from my more experienced colleagues, especially Wally, Rusty Chandler H’63, Norm Lemcke P’84, and Bill Posey ’50. I also learned an enormous amount from my students.”
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his son, Jonathan, and daughter-in-law, Sharon, of Milton, Vermont; daughter, Sarah, of Sarasota, Florida; and grandson, Alexander Stoffel of Tampa, Florida. Six step-grandchildren, seven step-great-grandchildren, and two step-great great-grandchildren also survive him.
His family has requested that memorial gifts be directed to The Frederick Gunn School, 99 Green Hill Rd. Washington, CT 06793 or online at gogunn.org/makeagift; or St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, 95 Court Street, Belfast, ME 04915. Read his obituary here.