In Memory of Our Friend and Fellow Springer Lover - Ed Whitakerby John McGonigle
Ed Whitaker died in Chester County Hospital, West Chester, Pennsylvania, on Thursday, January 23, 2003, with his son John by his bedside. It is the end of an era in the English springer spaniel world, certainly in the East.
A successful businessman, Whitaker was, at different times, president of two prestigious commercial real estate development firms in Philadelphia. I always had the feeling that it would be pretty tough sitting across a negotiating table from Whitaker.
Field trailing Springers from 1955 into the ’90s, Whitaker got his first placement in 1960 and qualified a dog for the first Amateur National. Whitaker judged and chaired both Amateur and Open Nationals. He made at least nine Amateur Field Champions (AFCs) and six Open Field Champions (FCs).
Valley Forge Field Trial president for 10 years, Whitaker was also Parent Club president for about eight years. He was a long-time AKC delegate who realized that spaniels were bred and developed over many centuries for hunting; Whitaker knew the importance of the sporting ancestry of the breed and strived to preserve it.
Training with, and learning handling from, the famous Scottish spaniel trainer, Larry McQueen, Whitaker was acknowledged as one of the finest handlers in the nation during his prime; he was always competitive.
For all his business and field trialing success, those were not Whitaker’s most important contributions in life. First, he loved his family, including, and especially, his grandchildren.
Valley Forge Field Trial Association, Whitaker’s home club from 1955 until his death, is the second oldest Springer trial club in the nation. Whitaker used his leadership role with Valley Forge to promote field trials and the sporting traditions of Springers. He helped start several clubs, supported several more financially (especially Valley Forge) and could always be counted on for a financial contribution to a club in need.
Whitaker licensed his property for year-round dog training and from 1969 until a year ago, when encroaching development forced an end to training there, Whitaker’s home and grounds were open to Springer field enthusiasts. When I started training at Whitakers regularly in 1986 non-trial Saturdays and Sundays were training days year-round with six to a dozen folks each day. A few years later training became Saturdays only. Thursday afternoon was training day during trial season and visiting trailers were always welcome.
Facilities for pigeons and pheasants ensured training birds and Whitaker had three ponds; two were used primarily for water training. For 11 - 12 years I spent about 40 Saturdays a year at Whitakers, as well as at least two additional visits during the summer for water work.
There is no substitute for training on, and being able to shoot, live birds for dogs; Ed Whitaker provided that opportunity to friends and strangers. The knowledge and assistance from experienced, capable trainers at Whitaker’s was invaluable. If a stranger contacted Whitaker he would direct them to a breeder(s) for a puppy and/or invite them to his training grounds and home.
Whitaker had just two requirements for those training at his place: 1) they must genuinely care about their dog and its fieldwork; 2) they must behave as a gentleman or gentlewoman.
Many people, and some clubs, owe a debt of gratitude to Ed Whitaker for his hospitality and assistance. He truly enjoyed helping people find, train and trial Springers. He also encouraged Valley Forge to become involved with the AKC Test program, which they did.
Ed Whitaker taught a lot of people about dogs; he also taught some of us about life, about being a man and about being a gentleman.
I owe much of my professional writing career to Ed Whitaker. He provided me with the opportunity to gain expertise and learn about dogs from top trainers and about guns and gunning from top shooters; Valley Forge had four national "Guns" when I became active, and another one joined later. He also enabled me to be an "official gun" for 10 years for up to six eastern clubs; it was an honor to shoot over the finest dogs in the world.
Whitaker mentored me on dogs, guns and gunning, but mostly about life. He was my friend, and I was his.
Ed Whitaker didn’t just wear a coat and tie to field trials, he was a gentleman and a positive force for Springer spaniels; he will be missed.