William Plaxico Whitesides Jr., born in Columbus in the mountains of western North Carolina on Sept. 22, 1929, lived an extraordinary life of 90 years. He died at his home in Arlington, Va., on May 1, 2020, a victim of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
He grew up in towns of western North Carolina, where his father was a school principal. He earned the Eagle Scout award and graduated from Bethel High School in 1947. He attended Davidson College, where he was the president of the male chorus and graduated in 1951. His love for music and singing led him around the world. He attended graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill and then taught music on the faculties at Mars Hill College and Tulane University. While in New Orleans, he met his life’s love, Demain Donley, and they would have an enduring and loving marriage for 47 years.
Leaving Tulane, Bill pursued further graduate studies at The Juilliard School in New York, and after graduation he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for study in Europe. While in New York, he debuted at Carnegie Hall, traveled a world tour with the Robert Shaw Chorale, and sang many professional jobs — once under the direction of famed maestro Leopold Stokowski.
He and Demain wed in March of 1961 in New York, and the new couple steamed for Europe. He studied in Germany, and at the completion of his Fellowship became a leading tenor with the opera houses in Bonn, Germany, and Bern, Switzerland. By then, children had come onto the scene, and he made the difficult decision between a life of performing in Europe and coming home to America. Bill and Demain chose to return to America, and Bill began a long and successful career as a professor of voice. He taught at the University of Louisville from 1965-1968, Ohio State University from 1968-1972, returned to the University of Louisville from 1972-1978 and the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., from 1978 until his retirement in 1996. He and Demain then moved back to her hometown of Morgantown. Still loving music and teaching, he taught for several years as a part-time faculty member for West Virginia Wesleyan College. At each stop, he became tenured and chaired the voice departments.
Always loving to perform, he did many guest performances with local and national opera companies. He spent a summer with the Santa Fe, N.M. summer opera program, a season with the San Francisco Opera and had many performances with state and local companies in Louisville, Ky., Columbus, Ohio, and Stockton, Calif. He was well-respected for his lyrical tenor voice, often singing the works of Mozart. He was perhaps best-known for his masterful rendering as the Evangelist in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. He organized choirs at his family’s churches and would often serve as cantor at Sunday masses.
Though a dedicated music professional and accomplished performer, Bill held family closest to his heart. He and Demain had five children, 20 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His academic schedule left open long summers, which the family spent joyfully at Cheat Lake in Morgantown, filled with boating, swimming, card playing and family time. Bill enjoyed working outdoors and always had a bountiful and beautiful yard and garden with fruit trees, flowers and vegetables. Trips back and forth from California to West Virginia allowed for exploring our National Parks along the way. He figured he had driven back and forth across the country more than 50 times.
His family is left with countless memories that are held dear, including pictures of places visited, recordings of his beautiful singing voice, and the lasting gift of treasuring one’s family.
Bill is survived by his children, Edward William and his wife Barbara, of Wilmington, N.C., Katherine Fristoe and her husband Jamie, of Atlanta, Doris Stone and her husband Don, of York, Pa., Sarah Bock and her husband Lee, of Vienna, Va., and Robert Alexander and his wife Robin, of Norcross, Ga. Bill’s grandchildren are Keenan, Boyce, Tucker, Carson, Stephen, Sarah, Elizabeth, Hope, Lucy, Jay, Lydia, Martha, Mary Rose, Christopher, Kate, Sam, Andrew, Alex, Eleanor and Caroline. Bill’s great-grandchildren are John, Henry, Sam and Liam.
Bill is survived by his younger brother James D. “Dave” Whitesides and his wife Dottie, of Bristol, Tenn.; two nieces, Martha Workman and Emy Scoville, of Chapel Hill, N.C.; and one nephew, Will Whitesides, of Bristol, Tenn.
Bill was predeceased by his parents, William Plaxico Whitesides Sr. and Martha Alexander Whitesides; his sister, Doris Whitesides Reeves; his nephew, Davis Whitesides and his wife, Demain Donley Whitesides.
A Memorial Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, 1 Guthrie Lane, Morgantown at 1:00 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3. Inurnment will be at Oak Grove Cemetery. Donations in Bill’s honor may be made to the Boyce-Whitesides Scholarship at Davidson College.