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Remembering Lynn Whiddon: A Collection of Memoirs Honoring A Lifelong Advocate for the Arts

Last week, our community suffered a great loss.

The canvas of our cultural development as a city is a work of art in itself. The growth and vitality of our local arts organizations have only been made possible through the lives of devoted advocates along the way.

Columbus is a place that breeds leadership for the betterment of all. It begins with an unspoken covenant that is as much a part of who we are as the landscape in which we find ourselves: Columbus is a community that counts cultural investment in our youth as essential. It is because of people like Lynn Whiddon that this unspoken covenant exists and has developed into what it is today.

For over fifty years, Lynn Whiddon was a champion of the arts and the missional force behind the continued cultural investment in our youth. Her selfless devotion to her cause made it a permanent, essential fixture of local living, and her legacy will be felt for generations to come.

Photo courtesy of the Whiddon Family.

A professional violinist, Whiddon received her Bachelor of Music degree in Violin Performance from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where she met her future husband, L. Rexford Whiddon. She served as Concertmaster of the Eastman Philharmonia under the baton of composer/conductor Igor Stravinsky and during her career played with the Erie Philharmonic, Rochester Philharmonic, Chautauqua Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony and Wichita Symphony.

After moving to Columbus in 1970, she was named Associate Concertmaster of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, a position she held for over thirty years before retiring.

CSO's Maestro George Del Gobo is a lifelong friend and colleague of Whiddon who said she will be missed immensely.

Lynn Whiddon has been a presence in my life since I was fifteen years old.  We were raised in the same city (Erie, PA), we studied with the same violin teacher, we played in the same orchestras, and we went to the same music school.  She was two years older, and I always looked at her as someone to be emulated.  It was a challenge for me to try to be as good a violinist and musician as Lynn.  After graduation from the Eastman School of Music I lost track of Lynn and Rex.  Imagine my surprise when, seventeen years later, I walked into the first rehearsal of my audition with the Columbus Symphony only to find Lynn, of all people, sitting on the first stand of the violin section.  The world of music is, indeed, a small one.
During the ensuing years Lynn continued to make her mark on the musical landscape of the city, both as a performer, a teacher, and as the inspiration for the reorganization of the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus.  I have admired and respected Lynn for her seriousness, her discipline, and for her determination to make music a relevant force, especially for young people, in the community.  Her life will serve as a continual inspiration for all of us as we strive to live up to her example.
-George Del Gobbo

The number of lives Whiddon touched as a music educator is immeasurable. Whiddon taught hundreds of private music students in her home and through the Music Conservatory Division of the Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University.

Professor Joseph Golden, Director of Opera, Professor of Organ, and Coordinator of Music History and Literature at CSU's Schwob School of Music, witnessed Whiddon's impact as an educator for decades. Golden said he most admired Whiddon's dedication to her students and the arts.

Lynn Whiddon was a quiet yet highly discerning individual whose deep and abiding love of music was matched by her focused and disciplined work ethic.
Always practicing... Always performing... Always teaching and inspiring her young students.
She was a tireless advocate for the arts in Columbus, and her legacy lives on in the hearts of all those who were touched by her wit, wisdom and devotion.
-Joseph Golden

While teaching and performing, Whiddon also earned her Master of Music degree in Music Education from CSU. In addition, she played an important role supporting her husband as he developed the Columbus State University Schwob School of Music into one of the top tier music schools in the country.

Outside of her family, perhaps her most important local legacy is the pivotal role Whiddon played in founding the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus in 1993, an organization in which she took tremendous pride. She served as the founding President of the Board of Directors, a role she filled several times over the years. In recognition of her service and commitment she was named President Emeritus recently.

Stephanie Payne is the Executive Director of the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus. Payne said Whiddon's heartfelt investment in YOGC was evident, and something she found extremely moving over the years.

"I had the honor and privilege to get to know Lynn after I started working with YOGC. Rex would bring her to every board meeting with her walker and then be there afterwards to take her home. It was obvious that love and service pervaded every aspect of their lives: for each other, for their and all children, for YOGC, and for Columbus.
I was told that it was actually a compliment when she stopped coming to board meetings despite being our President Emeritus because it meant she didn't feel like she needed to. That became even more poignant when Rex told me that she considers YOGC her greatest accomplishment after her children.
This amazing woman who went to Eastman and had a whole career as a violinist cared more about her children and creating a space for others to learn and play music than anything about herself. I hope that attitude of love and service pervades everything the youth orchestra does as we celebrate 25 years of Lynn's dream come to fruition this season."
-Stephanie Payne

Matt, Lynn, and Rex Whiddon on the evening she was honored by the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus in April 2017. | Photo by Rob St. Clair | Courtesy of YOGC

Whiddon’s volunteer activities ranged from serving as supervisor of her daughters’ brownie troupe in the 1970’s, to serving for many years as an enthusiastic docent for the Columbus Museum. For its twenty-sixth annual fundraiser, Crystal Ball in 2014, the American Cancer Society chose the Whiddons as joint honorees. The event was aptly named “Symphony of Hope” for the Whiddons’ involvement in the music community in Columbus.

Rick McKnight, Director of Education for RiverCenter of the Performing Arts, had the honor of introducing the Whiddons at the Crystal Ball in 2014. McKnight is a lifelong friend of the Whiddons, and has served on numerous boards with each of them over the years.

"Twenty-five years ago Lynn asked me to help with the formation of what is now the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus. Her vision was to provide a community-based setting for young musicians; provide them with coaching and lessons and unique performing opportunities. The goal was not to make performance majors but to strengthen the role of music in their lives. Lynn was the driving force behind this concept for a quarter of a century – cajoling teachers, seeking donors, searching out promising music students.
What started as a string orchestra has expanded to two performing groups that meet every Monday night. Thanks to community support they have three section coaches and have created and host the annual Whitewater Orchestra Festival. YOGC has never been stronger as they celebrate their 25th anniversary in a concert on October 30in RiverCenter. I think Lynn’s vision will be felt for many generations.
It is interesting how our lives have intersected over the years – music, the arts, cancer. Lynn and Rex were the 2014 Honorees for the American Cancer Society’s Crystal Ball. It was my honor to introduce them that night.  It is a joy to see the impact of music in children’s lives and I thank Lynn Whiddon for this. Her life will live on in the Youth Orchestra."
-Rick McKnight

Dr. Frank Brown, former President of Columbus State University, has known Whiddon for much of his life. Brown was most moved by her model of advocacy and the joy she found in watching the success of others.

"She was truly an unselfish advocate for the arts, especially music, and her personal musical talents, while key to her commitment, were all but invisible; she did not relish the spotlight. Her joy was in seeing talented people, usually youngsters but not always, flourish in their individual areas of interest.
Lynn's impact was evident in the successes she fostered among students of all ages and in her work with family members. She and her husband Rex were full partners in advancing the arts. Lynn seemed to prefer to play the role of observer and encourager, which she fulfilled so well; perhaps that is why we often overlooked her outstanding performances. The model of advocacy she left for all to see was one of a purity of purpose, seeking no personal gain or applause. Her influence on so many is undeniable. We will all miss her steady hand and her unfailing certainty that grand things were about to happen!
This speaks only to the arts and not to her devotion to her family and friends, a love strong and boundless and which must not be overlooked."
-Dr. Frank Brown

Whiddon is survived by her loving and devoted husband of 50 years, Rex Whiddon. Mr. Whiddon currently serves as Sr. Associate VP for Leadership Philanthropy and Strategic Initiatives at Columbus State University. He remains exceptionally active in the continued development of the arts, a passion he shared with his wife for their entire marriage.

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011, Lynn endured numerous bouts of illness, throughout it all serving as an inspiration and example for so many. In her obituary published last week, Whiddon and his family gave a heartfelt tribute to his beloved wife and the way she loved them so well.

"To be with her one would never know of the health battles she had and was facing as she taught us much about courage, grace, and quiet, but powerful strength. Her devotion to her family was evident in the priority she gave to her husband, children and grandchildren. It is a legacy that will continue for generations to come."

A public service of Worship and Thanksgiving to Celebrate Lynn Whiddon’s Life will be held in the Sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of Columbus at 4:00 p.m., Thursday, July 26, with the Reverend Dr. Jimmy Elder officiating. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to do so may make contributions to the Lynn K. Whiddon Endowment Fund of the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus. (YOGC, P.O. Box 8612, Columbus, GA 31908). ◼︎


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