Department of English

UT English Celebrates the Life of Thomas Whitbread

Tue, January 31, 2017
UT English Celebrates the Life of Thomas Whitbread
Thomas Whitbread: a poet, colleague, and friend.
UT English faculty and friends celebrated Thomas Whitbread's life at a memorial reading held on campus Friday, January 27. Follow this link to see a video created at the service in celebration of Tom, who will be dearly missed.  
The following obituary ran in the Austin Statesman:
The world has lost a great poet and person. 
Dr. Thomas Bacon Whitbread died on October 1, 2016 

Born in Bronxville New York, August 22, 1931.

As a boy, Tom lived in West Commington, Massachusetts, where he became an enthusiastic Brooklyn Dodgers fan and developed a love of trains. It’s where he spent much time exploring with childhood friend, Bubby Sears, playing Cowboys and Indians, figuring out the most effective way to walk across a frozen pond, and exploring the crystal radio. Tom’s mother taught him piano. He and his sister would immeasurably enjoy singing Gilbert and Sullivan together.

Crystal radio sets produce rather weak sound and must be listened to with sensitive ears. Tom was always able to hear and discern things others did not. 

He was just 10 years of age when he began to publish a self-made gazette, The “Whitbread Bugler.” It included wonderfully accounts of family stories and adventures, historically accurate details of war news. Tom always demanded accuracy of himself and encouraged it in others. It was at the same age of 10 that he traveled by bus to his first of more than 70 annual gatherings of the National Amateur Press Association (NAPA). Where he would forge life-long friendships with many like-minded individuals, like Wilamena Turnip Seed.

Tom’s Family moved to Amherst in the spring of 1944. He attended Saint James preparatory school in Maryland, then Amherst College for undergraduate school. He went on to Harvard Graduate school, where he received his Doctorate of Philosophy in the subject of English. In 1959, Tom accepted a teaching position at The University of Texas at Austin, Department of English where he continued to teach until the last year of his life.

Throughout his lifetime, Tom witnessed and was a part of tremendous social changes, always with an accepting mind. Tom was 16 years-old when the Dodgers signed on Jackie Robinson as the first black player in the modern major leagues. A little over 60 years after, he saw the first African American President sworn in to office. 

Tom truly enjoyed travel, first by rail then exclusively by automobile. He loved to drive by varying routes for vacations, usually incorporating visits with friends and family, NAPA conventions, and a healthy amount of exploration. He most always stayed in a Holiday Inn. The appeal was simple, a good reading chair and lamp. 

Tom was invariably kind and generous to friends and students, offering delightfully quirky insights and often withholding his words showing his interest with the sparkle in his eye. Or, he might follow his escalating silence with an exclamatory onomatopoeic word. He would often be in conversation then become silent for a moment and suddenly erupt and recall entire poems or sing arias, his voice rising with dramatic effect. He could often be found enjoying a Travis Club Senator cigar while watching sports, reading books or the latest issue of the New Yorker, or listening to classical music. He was also fond of good diners, good company, and savored his meals and coffee.  

Tom wrote several books of published poetry, notably: Four InfinitesWhomp and Moonshiner, and The Structures Minds Erect, and had many poems published in anthologies and journals. He was and will continue to be an inspiration to generations of students. 

A beloved teacher, colleague, brother, uncle, great-uncle, and dear friend. He is survived by his sister Reed, niece Beth, nephews David and Nathaniel, and many friends, former students and colleagues whose lives he touched, and who will always remember him.
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