Bruce Whitaker

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 8, 2009

Bruce E. Whitaker
RALEIGH, N.C.—Bruce Ezell Whitaker, 87, president emeritus of Chowan University, Murfreesboro, N.C., died May 5, 2009.
He spent more than four decades as an educator and administrator prior to retiring in 1989 after 32 years as president of Baptist-related Chowan College, 1957-1989.
He and his wife, Esther, resided in Raleigh since 2002. Oldest of the eight children of Fay Alvin and Oveda Ezell Whitaker, Bruce Garry Ezell Whitaker was born on a farm in western Cleveland County, June 27, 1921.
Reminiscences of his childhood including pride and gratitude for the nurturing of family, farm life and rural community were chronicled in his 2008 autobiography, “From Plough Boy to College President.”
He graduated from Mooresboro High School, Cleveland County, Class of 1940. Entering Wake Forest College (now University) in the fall of 1940, he subsequently earned degrees from Wake Forest (B.A., 1944) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., (B.D., 1947; Th. M., 1948; and Ph.D., 1950).
He then pursued additional graduate studies in college administration and sociology at George Peabody College, Nashville, Tenn. Honorary degrees were later conferred upon him by Campbell University (D.D., 1975) and Wake Forest University (D.L., 1987).
Ordained to the Gospel ministry by Sandy Plains Baptist Church, Cleveland County, Aug. 20, 1944, Whitaker served as pastor of Smithville (1945-49) and Wise’s Landing (1945-47) Baptist churches, Henry County, Ky.
Mr. Whitaker served as assistant pastor and Minister of Education, Druid Hills Baptist Church, Atlanta, (1953-1954), and served as state secretary of the Baptist Student Union, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, in September 1954.
As an educator he served as an instructor, Indiana University Extension, Jeffersonville, Ind., 1947-1950; professor of Religion, Cumberland University, Lebanon, Tenn., 1950-51; professor of religion, Belmont College (now University), Nashville, Tenn., 1951-1952; and professor of sociology/assistant to the president, Shorter College, Rome, Ga., 1952-53.
He was elected president of Chowan College in March 1957.
He assumed his duties May 15, 1957, and served for 32 years until his retirement in Aug. 2, 1989.
He was named president emeritus upon his retirement and was provided an office on campus with secretarial assistance. In this new role, he facilitated the compilation of archival materials he accumulated during his lengthy tenure as president. Those materials are housed in a special collection in Whitaker Library at Chowan University.
His tenure as president at Chowan witnessed the progress of that institution from a small, struggling school with largely parochial interest and appeal to a nationally recognized, two-year, church-related, liberal arts college. Student enrollment increased from less than 300 at the time of his accession to the presidency to more than 1,500 at one point during his administration.
Total college assets increased from three-quarters of a million dollars to nearly 25 million dollars.
The number of students earning degrees from 1958 to 1989 far exceeded the total number of degrees conferred during the first 110 years of the college’s history.
A devoted husband, father and churchman, he is survived by his wife of 62 years, Esther Adams Whitaker; two sons, Barry Eugene and wife Becky of Raleigh and Garry Bruce and wife Pam of Winston-Salem, N.C.; two granddaughters, Amy Lynn and husband Steve Tamayo of Buena Vista and Jean Ann Whitaker of Fayetteville, N.C.; five sisters, Margaret Louise Wood, Myrtle Elaine Price, Betty Ruth Davis, Jean Ann Humphries and Jessie Elizabeth Jones; one brother, John Bob Whitaker; and several nieces and nephews.
He was predeceased by one brother, Alvin Hoyte Whitaker.
A celebration of his life will be conducted at 11 a.m. Saturday in Wake Forest Baptist Church in Wake Forest, N.C., with Dr. William A. Slater and Dr. M. Christopher White, President of Chowan University, officiating.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Bruce and Esther Whitaker Scholarship, Chowan University, 1 University Place, Murfreesboro, NC 27855.
Arrangements are being handled by Bright Funeral Home & Cremation Center, Wake Forest.
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