Share this article

print logo

Fellow musicians recall slain violinist as kindhearted, gracious

Mary E. Whitaker, who was found shot to death in her rural Westfield summer home Wednesday, was a well-known violinist across New York State. Her colleagues say Whitaker was a very private person who was kindhearted and gracious.

Each summer, the 61-year-old woman migrated from Manhattan to Chautauqua County to perform with the Chautauqua County Symphony Orchestra. There, she formed a second family.

“She was a fabulously caring and incredible person,” said Deborah Sunya Moore, the orchestra’s associate director of program office, who worked with Whitaker for 10 years. “She got along with everyone in the orchestra. She was a great joy to be with, and she will be sorely missed by everyone here.”

Tuesday night, Whitaker performed in the final concert of the orchestra’s 2014 season. It was her 36th year with the Chautauqua Institution’s Symphony Orchestra.

Wednesday afternoon, an orchestra member and her husband found Whitaker dead in her Westfield residenceon Titus Road.

Whitaker lived in the Westfield home each summer during the orchestra’s nine-week season. The day after Tuesday’s final concert, many of her colleagues returned to their permanent homes for the year. She was supposed to go back to New York City, where she lives with her life partner this week. Throughout the year, she performs in various orchestras, including the Westchester Philharmonic.

Whitaker was well-respected by her 73 fellow musicians. She was a private person and an excellent violinist, said Marty Merkley, the vice president and director of the orchestra’s programming.

“She was known amongst her colleagues as a very kind and gracious person but a very strong person,” Merkley said. “One doesn’t exist in New York as a musician without having a certain strength and will and confidence because it’s a tough world. And she brought that sort of New York sensibility with her wherever she went.”

Merkley said the orchestra members and office administrators are in shock.

“There’s tremendous grief,” Merkley said. “And there’s a tremendous sense of loss that part of your family, that soul is now missing. And a feeling of helplessness and what to do in these circumstances.”