He threw open the sash and climbed through the window at the first pass of the Blue Angels. Tentative, a bit fearful, I leaned out. He pressed against the brick, eyes upward. In his profile, no fear, so I climbed onto the hot summer tin. My foot slipped and I gripped the wall, the window sill, to get my footing. Sidestep by sidestep, I crept to where he stood. He smelled of dirt, boy, and the faint hint of honey. For a brief time, we stood, our backs to the wall before we heard it again. A low hum turned roar when the V-shaped formation broke over the house and shook the fiber of our souls. We were one, my brother and me, armed with wonder at the sight. The porch vibrated. We waited in breathless suspension for the thrill of a sonic boom. A nervous titter escaped me as I looked at Jeff’s gap-toothed grin next to me, his eyes focused skyward.
My brother, sixty-six years, eleven months (to the day), finally reached far enough to be among the stars on Friday, November 19, 2021. Jeffrey John Whitaker, born December 19, 1954, lived most of his adult life in Southern California. While he courageously fought Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma for nearly thirty years, a two-month fight against Covid 19 actually took him.
Jeff’s profession as an aeronautical engineer began at Lockheed Martin. He later joined the N.A.S.A. team that transported the space shuttle between Cape Canaveral and Edwards Air Force Base. Jeff, as a military minded individual, served eight years on active duty, followed by his time as a reservist to accumulate a twenty-five year career before retiring from the Air Force.
Jeff had a passion for many things. He loved cycling and would join others on extensive rides through the Mojave Dessert. He felt comfortable on a horse, emulating his cowboy father with joy. He was most passionate about his faith as a devoted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Through his faith work, Jeff attempted to trace family history and believed on some level that if he could find connections to others, that they became family.
He is preceded in death by his father, Woodro Nelson Whitaker, a man who died far too soon, when Jeff was two years old. His mother, Louise Elizabeth (Benner) Whitaker, died in 1996. His oldest brother, Paul Nelson Whitaker, died in 2017. He is survived by me, his little sister, Tina Neyer, her husband, John R. Neyer. His nieces and nephews, Wayne Memmott and Courtney (Caudill) Memmott, Annie Memmott, Corey Memmott and Autumn (Dearing) Memmott, as well as step-niece and nephews, Abigail, Jason, and Joshua Neyer. Jeff is also survived by many cousins. He will be missed by many, including his friends.
Growing up, Jeff and I were partners in crime. He rescued me a few times, was blatantly honest when he defended my honor. He wanted the best for those around him and his heart was as tender as the first light of dawn on a spring day. When you look to the stars on any given night, perhaps one will shine brighter than the rest, twinkle as if to dust you with magic, and maybe that one will be my brother, Jeffrey John Whitaker.