Eleanor Whitmore of Amagansett, a beloved community volunteer, Sunday school teacher, philanthropist, and education advocate, created “a legacy of an unwavering commitment to countless causes and people close to her heart,” her family wrote.
Mrs. Whitmore died last Thursday at home in Louisville, Ky., where she had been living with her daughter, Christine Jackson, in recent years. She was 98 and had been in declining health for a year.
Mrs. Whitmore was “a woman of vision and compassion” who “generously lent her time and energy to many other local organizations and causes,” her family said. Among them were the East Hampton Ladies Village Improvement Society, the Women’s Society, Unicef, Save the Children, Africa University, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Global Ministries, and numerous civil rights causes. She was also a staunch advocate for peace, and, during the Vietnam War, she stood early and firmly against the conflict. Most important, her family said, “the doors of her home were always open to those needing a helping hand.”
She was an advocate for the developmentally disabled, and helped to establish two houses here for them.
Perhaps her most enduring legacy is the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, of which she was a pivotal founding member. “This institution stands as a testament to Eleanor’s dedication to the youngest members of our community,” her family wrote.
“I don’t feel as if I’ve done anything so wonderful,” Mrs. Whitmore told The Star in a 2005 interview. “I do it because I love to, and I can’t say no.”
Mrs. Whitmore was a lifelong member of the United Methodist Church and recalled walking through farm fields as a young girl in Queens to get to church. In East Hampton, she “shared her faith and knowledge” by teaching Sunday school for decades at the East Hampton Methodist Church, “nurturing the spiritual growth of younger generations with the aid of her delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies,” her family said.
Tim Frazier, the current executive director of the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, which in its earliest days was called the East Hampton Daycare and Learning Center, recalled that Mrs. Whitmore had been approached by working mothers who were seeking help with child care. She joined the center’s board of directors in 1990 and facilitated its transition to offering prekindergarten classes in addition to day care services. Infant care is also being discussed, as is a retirement program to benefit the center’s employees, Mr. Frazier said.
“She took that on as a challenge,” Mr. Frazier said, “and that’s why we’re here today. Not only was she instrumental in that, but she went beyond child care. . . . She had the overall vision of what it takes to have a high quality, effective center for young children and their parents.”
“What she has done for this community is really multifaceted. She will always be remembered,” he said.
In the 2005 interview with The Star, Mrs. Whitmore said she was fortunate to have been able to stay at home to raise her children, but that she was drawn to helping working mothers. “It takes two incomes for most families to
make it today and their children are entitled to go into a safe place,” she said.
A lover of books, she would often visit classrooms to read to the children.
She was born in Queens on Oct. 2, 1925, to John and Madeleine Bamman, and grew up there with a brother, John, and two sisters, Mary Jane and Madeline.
She studied to become a registered nurse at St. John’s, a small hospital in Queens. While she was a cadet nurse, which was what a nursing student was called at the time, she was introduced to Charles (Doc) Whitmore, her future husband. They were married when she finished school in 1947 at the age of 22.
Her life journey led her in 1955 to her beloved Amagansett, “where she found her true home and purpose,” her family wrote. “Our quaint seaside community held a special place in her heart, and she quickly became an integral part of it.”
Here she managed part of the family business, the Amagansett Plant Shop, and was an active and influential member of the Amagansett Village Improvement Society, and its president for many years.
As a member of the L.V.I.S., she supplied flowers and plants for its many events and made sure that all the booths at the annual fair had an arrangement. She also organized the society’s barbecue for over two decades.
Mrs. Whitmore was an avid swimmer, relishing the waters of Amagansett from early spring to late fall. She was also a skilled cook, and hosted many notable people and friends at her fund-raising dinner parties.
After she turned 45, she set out to “do everything that I ever wanted to do,” she told The Star in 2005. She took piano and singing lessons, paddled 119 miles of Maine’s Allagash River, climbed the Cottonwood Butte Mountains in Idaho, and traveled to Egypt, Israel, China, and Europe.
“Eleanor’s memory will forever be cherished by her family, friends, and the many people whose lives she touched,” her family wrote. “Her legacy of compassion, dedication, and community service for Amagansett will continue to inspire future generations.” Her life “was a testament to the power of love, compassion, and unwavering dedication to making our community a better place. She will be dearly missed but never forgotten.”
In addition to her daughter, Christine, Mrs. Whitmore leaves two sons, Charlie Whitmore and Jack Whitmore, both of East Hampton. She also leaves 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 2001, and a daughter, Jane, died in 1979. Her three siblings also died before her.
A celebration of her life will take place today at 11 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church in East Hampton, to be followed by burial at the Green River Cemetery in Springs. Her family has suggested memorial donations to the Whitmore Center, online at ewecc.org.