Obituary of John Henry Whitmire
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Pawleys Island’s heart broke on Jan. 18., when John Henry Whitmire, an adventurous, gregarious, and charming unofficial world ambassador for the community where he lived and worked most of his life, died at his home by the Waccamaw River. He had suffered a heart attack two weeks prior. Even though it was a serious medical condition and he’d undergone surgery, his death shocked friends and family because John Henry seemed omnipresent. He had always been there for them and seemingly always would be. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. His Facebook page says it all, as hundreds of posts pour in with pain, surprise and unabashed love. “John Henry, we still had so much left to do. So much more to talk about. I just can’t believe you’re not here any longer,” Bonnie Beth Baldwin posted. “You know those rare people who you are ALWAYS happy to see? He was definitely one. An absolute treasure,” wrote Heather Lee Begley. Rooms brightened when he walked in. If charisma was a form of legal tender, John Henry was loaded. He rarely entered a building on Pawleys Island where he wasn’t approached by old friends. He never left without trying to make a new one. A world traveler, who’d made his way through Europe, Australia, Asia, South America and many places in between, he had a rare talent for spinning tales that could be mesmerizing, but also leave you wondering “did that really happen?” Renowned chef Louis Osteen once jokingly said that his dear friend John Henry believed “it’s more important to have a good story, than for it to be absolutely, totally true.” Anyone who knew him would immediately recognize the kernel of truth in that remark. John Henry, as he was called from the time of his birth, saw life as a series of adventures — stories to be told, to be shared and told all over again. The more dramatic, the better, even if he needed to use a bit of poetic license honed during his years as a creative writing student at the University of South Carolina. There was the tale about him riding in a horse-drawn carriage on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, right past the startled queen’s window. Or, the time he and a traveling companion were mistaken for terrorists in Ireland and put through the wringer by local authorities. He talked of being at Woodstock. He once pulled out a harmonica on the spur of the moment and did a riff that got thousands of views on YouTube. “Don’t believe me? Google it,” he’d say. In this case, there was solid video evidence, with more than 20,000 views and counting. Yes, John Henry’s life was an adventure. He embraced every day to the fullest. Through his travel both in this country and abroad, he made thousands of true friends. A lifelong bachelor, he showed extraordinary dedication to his brothers, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles. He enmeshed himself in the Pawleys Island community, adding to its lore and allure. He skied some of the world’s premier slopes and sailed in the ocean. He even ran for Congress. He bought precious stones and shaped them into precious pieces of jewelry. Many of his friends first encountered him at his store, Whitmire’s Fine Jewelry. They appreciated his artistry, which emphasized coastal themes. “Pawleys Island will never be the same without you, John Henry Whitmire. I’ve known you for as long as I can remember, and you were such a selfless and kind man,” Lindsey Hart Kirby said in a Facebook post. “I have so many beautiful pieces of your jewelry from all of my boys that I love so much. You were so talented.” His generosity was legendary. He would complain of being broke, but then buy dinner for an entire table. He always was ready to repair someone’s treasured necklace, or throw an impromptu meal for dozens of friends or relatives. John Henry paid faithful attention over many decades to his oldest brother, Woodrow Wilson “Whit” Whitmire, who lived in a group home for most of his adult life. John Henry was born in a Greenville hospital on Dec. 28, 1951, to Woodrow and Arla Mae Piephoff Whitmire. He grew up in Easley, and attended and played football at Easley High School before entering the University of South Carolina and majoring in English. But it also was while he was at USC that John Henry took a class in jewelry making. After leaving Columbia, John Henry started working for a jewelry shop inside the Gay Dolphin in Myrtle Beach and then was asked to open a new location in North Myrtle Beach. There, he was joined by his childhood friend, John White. “At the end of the season, the shop got robbed,” White remembers. “We lost a bunch of cash and lost most of the jewelry inventory. It really set us back. It was a hungry fall and winter.” But in a demonstration of his resourcefulness, John Henry took his craft on the road, doing enough jewelry shows to get through the winter. “What I saw from that was his resilience and generosity during those times,” White said. “Even though we had very little stuff, if we met someone who had less, he would take them in. He made sure they had something to eat on the way out.” Those hard times, though, eventually led John Henry to the place he loved, Pawleys Island, where his jewelry store — then called October Silver — was one of the first tenants at the Hammock Shops. “I felt like John Henry was a mentor for me in so many ways,” White says. “Nice and naughty and adventurous. He repeatedly taught me how to live life to the fullest, recover from the hard knocks and love people unconditionally. He was a true character in the Southern sense. He was a living legend.” John Henry was predeceased by his parents, and by his step-mother, Elizabeth Jones “Lib” Whitmire and by his brother, Whit. He is survived by his brother Ralph Clayton "Clay" Whitmire, and his wife Lynn, of Indianapolis, Indiana. He also is survived by his nephews, Andrew Whitmire and his wife Leah, and Matthew Whitmire his wife, Daphne, by great-nieces Kate and Kendall Whitmire and great-nephew Will Whitmire, as well as four godchildren, many loving cousins, children of cousins and grandchildren of cousins. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1, at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church in Pawleys Island, followed by a celebration of life at Frank’s Restaurant. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests following the lead of John Henry, who was a giver in all aspects of life. Honor him by giving to your favorite charity or to the next person who crosses your path.To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of John Whitmire, please visit Tribute Store
11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church
113 Baskerville Drive
Pawleys Island, South Carolina, United States
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In Loving Memory
1951 - 2023
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