In Memory

Robert Whittenburg

Robert "Rob" Lee Whittenburg
1955 - 2017
Rob passed this crazy but fascinating world peacefully on March 22, 2017 around 2:20 p.m. after a nine year battle with cancer. He wished to thank all the wonderful and kind people of Huntsman Cancer Institute, Utah Cancer Specialist, Brighton Home Health and Hospice and St. Marks Hospital. Their professionalism and dedication is beyond reproach.
One of Rob's first memories was watching the old Piston powered airliners that would fly overhead as they flew in and out of Salt Lake Municipal Airport. This lit a spark in him when he was no more than two years old. It struck his imagination of flying which later became a career. He flew until he was forced to retire in 2013 after a 27 year career with Mountain Fuel Resources, now QEP Resources in Denver. 
While attending the University of Utah, he obtained the Add-on ratings to his Commercial Pilot License, and worked full-time at the airport. And then he joined the U.S. Navy as an ASW technician on the Lockheed P-3C Orion. In the Navy, he made many lifetime friends and believed in "Work Hard - Play Hard", which was his life's motto. 
He is survived by his wife Maricel; daughter Sarah; and younger siblings Ann and David. Maricel and Sarah became his sole focus of love when they came into his life. 
A celebration of life will be held on Friday March 31, 2017, from 6:30 PM- 8:30 PM, at Starks Funeral Parlor located at 3651 South 900 East, Salt Lake City, Utah. Guests are encouraged to use the complimentary valet parking provided on the north side of the building. 
In lieu of the usual flowers or random gifts, he wishes donations go to Huntsman Cancer Institute.


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26/03/17 10:21 AM #1    

Dick Flygare

Well done, my dear friend. Godspeed.

27/03/17 07:08 AM #2    

Martin Calderwood

Thanks for the memories Rob..... Peace to you!

03/04/17 03:33 PM #3    

Tim Cox

Remarks Given by  Dick Flygare at Rob Whittenburg Memorial Service, March 31, 2017

I first got to know Rob in 1974, when I took a summer job at the Salt Lake City Airport working for a company that was called Air Utah. Rob was already working there, along with Vahl Buchanan, an old friend who is here with us tonight.

Rob, Vahl and I worked on the flight line, wig-wagging airplanes in and out of parking spots, fueling them, moving them in and out of our large, World War II-vintage hangar and tugging them around the ramp.

Rob and I were both newly-minted private pilots in 1974 and we soon started flying together. We worked either the 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. shift or the 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. “swing shift.” That allowed us time to fly in the mornings or afternoons, whenever we had saved enough money from our meager two-dollar-an-hour pay.     

The way a pilot flies an airplane can tell you a great deal about his or her character. And it was immediately clear to me that Rob was a serious student of the art of flying. His pre-flight inspections were meticulous, his radio usage was crisp and exact and his flying was both very smooth and very precise. But Rob was more than just a “good stick.” He was also very conscientious, steady under pressure, and completely trustworthy.     

To save some money, Rob and I joined the Midvale Flying Club, where we could also fly more advanced airplanes than the slow trainers we had been flying. Midvale required all new members to obtain an insurance checkout on their airplanes and Rob happened to have a friend named Ron McMurdy, who was a flight instructor.

Ron was attending the University of Utah as part of the Naval Enlisted Scientific Education Program. He gave Rob and I our Midvale club checkouts, and that was the beginning of a three-way friendship that lasted from then until Rob’s passing nine days ago.

Ron is here with us tonight from his home in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he retired in 2015 after finishing a career as a captain with Southwest Airlines. Ron must have seen something in Rob and I that reminded him of his own early days as a pilot, because he took the two of us under his wing to finish our instrument ratings during the winter of 1974-75.

In the progress of any new pilot, the instrument rating is generally regarded as the single most distinguishing achievement, the one that separates the men from the boys and the serious pilots from the rest of the pack. And Ron gave Rob and I the kind of instruction that money can’t buy.

As a matter of fact, Ron wouldn’t even take our money. We’d go fly for four hours at a time, with Rob and I under the hood in the hot seat for two hours each. After landing, the three of us would head for the La Morena Café at the Guadalupe Center, where you could buy a huge platter of Mexican food for about two bucks back then.

Buying dinner for Ron at La Morena was all the compensation he ever took from either one of us.

I remember one night when the three of us stayed out until the wee hours of the morning, flying practice instrument approaches with no one else in the sky. I don’t remember what - if anything - we had to eat that night and suspect that all three of us probably just went hungry.

Rob and I used to pray for clouds, rain, fog or snow so that we could log some precious “actual” instrument flight time, instead of relying on the hood to obscure our view of the outside world. As our skills improved, we also used to challenge each other to see who could fly an ILS approach with the smallest deviations from the localizer and glideslope centerlines.

We often teased and played practical jokes on each other. One time Rob had finished one of his usual, NASA-quality pre-flights and was in the cockpit, getting an ATC clearance over the radio before engine start. I snuck up behind the airplane and quietly reattached the tail tiedown chain. After startup, Rob applied power to taxi and the airplane moved about two feet before it came to an abrupt halt. He instantly knew what had happened - and shot a look at me that would have been fatal if I hadn’t ducked.

Of course, Rob gave as well as he got. One time when I was flying under the hood and approaching minimums on a practice approach, Rob started jabbing me in the ribs from the back seat with a piece of broomstick. Believe me, that can be a bit of a distraction at a time like that.    

During the last several months, Rob and I often spoke of those days. Although we were both as poor as church mice, we remembered them with great fondness and agreed that they were some of the best and happiest days of our entire lives. We literally lived to fly, working hard every day to master a large body of highly-specialized knowledge, while also developing and polishing some very demanding skills.

Rob and I received our instrument ratings. And Ron McMurdy went on to be named the Student Naval Aviator of the Year in 1976, the pilot who graduated from Pensacola with the highest grades of all the new Naval Aviators trained by the U.S. Navy in 1975-76.

Ron, if Rob could speak to us tonight, I’m certain that he’d want you to know just how deeply he valued your friendship and appreciated your wonderful generosity in so freely sharing your skills, as well as the great enjoyment he derived from communicating with you via amateur radio down through all the years that followed.

One day in late 1977, Rob called to tell me that he had just signed enlistment papers and was going to join the Navy. Rob had a real genius for electronics and he became an AX, the Navy specialty that deals with the repair and maintenance of sophisticated aircraft avionics. Rob was assigned to a P-3 Orion squadron based at Moffett Field, near San Jose, California. He earned Navy aircrew wings and flew on many long-range missions around the Pacific, hunting Soviet submarines and other warships.

Rob had many great experiences in the Navy and saw much of the world in the process. I remember once when he called to tell me that he and his P-3 crew had penetrated a typhoon a few days earlier, while on a Pacific deployment. I wasted no time in assuring him that I thought he and the guys he was flying with were absolutely nuts.

Rob was very proud of his naval service, and rightly so. Rob stepped up to answer our nation’s call to service during a very dangerous period in the Cold War. Thanks, Rob.  

When Rob finished his Navy enlistment in late 1981, he returned to Salt Lake City and began helping his father with some of his family’s business enterprises. One of them was an automated car wash out in Sandy. A car wash goes through a lot of hot water, of course, and that one burned an awful lot of natural gas to heat all that water.

By 1982, I had worked for Mountain Fuel for about five years and had just begun to fly for the company. I took a lot of flak from Rob about the high cost of natural gas. Rob eventually began to call Mountain Fuel the “Evil Empire,” after President Reagan’s term for the Soviet Union at the time.

It took many years, but I eventually got my revenge for that one. In 1986 I left the company - which had been renamed Questar - to fly for Western Airlines. By then, Rob had also acquired all the necessary pilot certificates and ratings and had enough flight experience to begin to fly as one of Questar’s reserve pilots.

In March 1994, Rob joined Questar’s flight department as a full-time employee. The first thing he needed to do was obtain a type rating to act as the pilot-in-command (that’s the FAA’s technical term for “captain”) of Questar’s jet, a Cessna Citation.

I offered to accompany Rob to FlightSafety International’s Citation training center in Wichita, to serve as his co-pilot during Rob’s type rating training.

And before we left for Wichita, I presented Rob with a framed “Certificate of Induction into the Dark Forces of the Evil Empire,” of which he was always very proud.

Rob and I spent a couple of very busy weeks in Wichita, and I was often reminded of the many experiences we had shared twenty years earlier. By the time he took his FAA check ride, Rob could make that jet talk. He flew it like he had been born in it, received his Citation type rating and came home a fully-fledged member of the Dark Forces.

Rob and Maricel married in 1996, and one day in late 1997 Rob called to ask if I would fly a previously-scheduled trip to Washington, DC for him. Maricel was about to give birth, and Rob wanted to be with the wife he loved more than anything in the world.   

Sarah, in the almost 43 years I knew your Dad, I’ve never seen him happier than he was after you entered the world. He loved you with all his heart   and you truly were his pride and joy. I can’t begin to count how many times   he told me and all his other friends all the details of your many adventures and achievements.

I know how much you love your Dad and how much you miss him today. But I’m convinced that he’s now proudly watching over you, and will for the rest of your life. One day you’ll be with him again, in God’s good time.

When Rob found out that he had cancer in late 2008, he took the news with remarkable equanimity. From the outset, he was determined to fight it with everything he had. After surgery and a difficult course of chemotherapy, it looked like he had managed to beat it into remission. In late 2009, he regained his FAA medical certificate and was able to resume flying.

But alas, it was not to be. His illness eventually returned, and in spite of the best efforts of his doctors and many other devoted caregivers, Rob had to give up his flying career.

Through several other surgeries and many other difficult and painful treatments that followed, I never once heard Rob complain about the manifest unfairness of it all. Instead, he enjoyed the time he had and made the most of the relationships he had with his loved ones and friends.

Rob’s courage and determination were a source of great inspiration to everyone who knew him. He lived life to the fullest to the very end, following current events closely and enjoying the recent NCAA playoffs.

The day before he died, Rob worked on his stamp collection, and he and I discussed the model airplane hobby we had both enjoyed so much for so many years.

Now that Rob has “flown west,” each of us are experiencing the feelings of grief, loss and sadness that must inevitably accompany the end of such a fine life. Maricel, Sarah, Ann and Dave are feeling them most acutely, so let each of us embrace them and let them know that we understand, we are with them and they can count on us to be there in the days that lie ahead.

Knowing Rob as I did, I’m sure that he would be the first to tell us that life must go on in spite of all. So even as we mourn Rob’s passing, let us also give thanks to God that such a man lived, and that all of us were blessed and privileged to have had the benefit of his influence for the better in our own lives.

Rob, I won’t say goodbye. Godspeed, blue skies and tailwinds until we meet again, my dear friend.             



09/04/17 09:58 PM #4    

Kenny Lone


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