WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – Violinist Mary Whitaker always greeted her fellow Westchester Philharmonic members with a big hug and kiss before and after rehearsals and concerts.
Joshua Worby, executive director of the Westchester Philharmonic, told Daily Voice he is sure his longtime friend did the same when leaving the season-ending concert with the Chautauqua Institution’s Symphony Orchestra in western New York on Tuesday, Aug. 19.
It was the last time anyone saw her.
Whitaker, 61, was shot to death the next day when she reportedly tried to stop a burglary in her home. Two homeless men from Pennsylvania have been charged with carjacking and murder. Jonathan M. Conklin, 43, and Charles R. Sanford, 30, will face a grand jury on the charges.
The Manhattan resident spent her last 36 summers performing with the Chautauqua Symphony and lived in her home in western New York from June to September. She would then return to Manhattan in the fall and perform with the Westchester Philharmonic, which she did for 25 years.
“We’re struggling with the idea that when we open our season this coming October she won’t be there,” Worby said.
Although Whitaker was never featured in a solo position as a member of the violin section, Worby said she was a “brilliant violinist and a great member of the team.”
“She was, in many ways, an anchor, an emotional anchor to her colleagues and she will be missed,” he said.
Worby remembered his colleague and friend as an “incredibly sunny and optimistic human being.” She was involved in many causes, even one that put the two on opposite ends of the negotiating table.
“She was a strong proponent and advocate for the musicians union,” Worby said. “Notwithstanding the fact that, in my role as executive director, that would define us as being on opposite sides of the negotiating table, I considered her a very good friend and I know she considered the same of me.”
The Westchester Philharmonic posted a tribute to Whitaker on its website.
She graduated from Indiana University with a performance degree in violin. She toured regularly with the New York City Opera Touring Company. She has performed with Barbra Striesand and many chamber music groups.
“This is a very difficult time for us,” Worby said. “Mary was a good friend. She was just a brilliant violinist. Just a wise and considerate and caring human being. Somehow I know that sounds corny, and exactly defines Mary. She was beloved by everyone who knew her.”
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