CLIFTON FORGE, Va. (VR) – You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but Gary Whitmer, an incredible musician who once worked with Frances Rupert, is a singer, organist and almost completely self-taught on the massive, beautiful instrument.
He was given quite a rocky start in life after watching his biological mother walk out on him and his three siblings when he was just four years old. Soon after, his biological father became overwhelmed with raising the children alone and handed them over to Whitmer’s uncle and aunt, who would go on to raise the four children as their own. Then, within the past couple of years, his biological father and both of his adoptive parents passed on.
With such a devastating past, one would think Whitmer might give up or fall apart. On the contrary, he finds peace on the ivory keys beneath his fingertips on the organ at his church, Clifton Forge Baptist, located at 511 McCormick. He swayed along to the music as he practiced a familiar tune, chatting away about a childhood he was grateful for.
“They [Whitmer’s aunt and uncle] were the best parents. I couldn’t have hand-picked better parents if I tried,” he said. This included having an adoptive mother who, he says, never had to ask him to play the organ. It was always something he loved, somewhere he found tranquility.
Whitmer says he wishes more people played the instrument he describes as unique in that no two organs are exactly alike. Why? “Because every musician wants their organ to sound this way or that way … so each one is individually done according to the request of the organist.” So, one size does not fit all!
These days, Whitmer can be found at church, undoubtedly sitting on the stool in front of the organ, secretly hoping a fellow lover of the instrument comes his way; then again, one may see him at Jack Mason’s on Tuesday nights with his trivia group. But, wherever one comes across this sweet soul, they can rest assured he will be found with a warm smile on his face.
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