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Celebration of Life July 6th @ 2pm at the Evergreen Cultural Centre, Coquitlam

A Tribute by Chris Turpin, Gleneagle Secondary School

The rugby community in BC is saddened by the news that a true legend has passed away. Tony Whitham passed away on June 23rd . Tony was born in 1937 in Halifax, England. His early years were shaped by growing up in working class England during and after the war. His father was killed in action in France shortly prior to the Evacuation at Dunkirk in May 1940. Tony was raised by his widowed mother who helped instill a work ethic and values that Tony was famous for. Upon graduating from Manchester University Tony taught for three years at Highlands Technical Grammar School. In 1963, Tony persuaded his wife that winter could not be much colder in Canada. So Tony and his wife, Kathleen, and young daughter, Jo-Ann, moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Whithams stayed for three years in Winnipeg before moving to BC. Tony taught one year at Princess Margaret Secondary in Surrey. Then Tony made the switch to the growing school district of Coquitlam and taught at Centennial Secondary School from 1967-1973. In 1967 the Whithams were blessed with a second child, a son, named Bob.

In 1973 Tony moved to what would become his home, Port Moody Senior Secondary School. Tony remained at PMSS until his retirement in January of 1996. At PMSS Tony taught History, Western Civilization, Economics and Social Studies. Like many master teachers, Tony recognized that connections with students weren’t exclusive to the classroom. Tony coached girls rugby, field hockey and founded the powerful Port Moody Secondary senior boys rugby program. He served as head coach for the senior PMSS team from 1974 to 1995.  Tony’s teams were perennial attendees at the BC Secondary Schools Rugby Union Provincial Championships. Tony had a profound impact on his players. His teams were always fit and well-drilled. He always stressed the importance of team and the brotherhood that teammates shared.  Tony served as Commissioner and President of the British Columbia Secondary Schools Rugby Union, Commissioner of the Fraser Valley Secondary Schools Rugby Union, a rugby referee, then later as a referee coach. His ability to observe even the most miniscule detail was never lost upon the referees he was coaching.

In 1994 the Coquitlam Secondary School Athletic Association awarded Tony the prestigious Jim Stewart Award. This award recognizes coaches who have long served their sport, built programs and demonstrated coaching excellence. In 1995, Tony was inducted as an Honorary Member of the BC Secondary Schools Rugby Union as part of its inaugural class. Tony was also a lifetime member of both the Pocomo Rugby Club and later the United Rugby Club.

In retirement Tony continued his inability to sit still. Starting in 1996 he served as a Faculty Associate to mentor student teachers for the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia. In 1999 he was blessed with a granddaughter, Lizzy.  He continued his work with the BC Rugby Referees Society mentoring young referees. Tony also continued to coach rugby in retirement. He worked with womens’ programs at both Simon Fraser University and the Pocomo Rugby Club. He coached the Gleneagle Secondary School girls rugby team from 1999 – 2010 and helped guide the team to six provincial championships. Players on those first Gleneagle teams will remember Tony proudly writing “Lizzy” in giant letters across the match balls. He eventually retired from being a rugby referee coach in 2011. Tony continued to attend rugby games as a supporter and a fan. He was often found near the in goal sitting in his black chair. He would always distance himself from the boisterous crowd usually gathered between the ten metre lines. However, not long after he settled into place, former players and friends would congregate around him and share stories and debate the laws of game. He was universally respected and will be deeply missed.

Tony’s Celebration of Life will be held on Wednesday, July 6th  at 2pm at the Evergreen Cultural Center in Coquitlam.