By Mark Wineka
C. Wayne Whitman carried a business card that under his name said simply, “Student and collector of history.”
Who could argue?
After his retirement as a Salisbury Police Department captain and detective, Whitman devoted much of his time to an insatiable desire to study, discuss and document history and share what he learned with others.
Whitman’s death from a heart attack Tuesday morning shocked many who had come to know the robust 69-year-old, especially in recent years through his history “collecting,” but also during an entire career as a public servant and leader.
“People are devastated all across the community,” said Kaye Brown Hirst, executive director of Rowan Museum Inc. “He was just a fine man, a fine, fine man.”
Whitman served on the board of directors for Rowan Museum, where the idea for a History Club surfaced about four years ago.
Whitman took that idea and ran with it, lining up monthly programs that often drew packed houses at the old Community Building.
More recently, he got the museum’s appraisal fair going, Hirst said.
As a member of the history arm of the Public Art Committee, he helped with some of the research behind the bronze historic markers being installed downtown as part of the History and Art Trail.
He served as treasurer for the Salisbury Confederate Prison Association and chaired the Historic Preservation Commission.
At his death, Whitman was working on a documentary connected to the life and shooting death in Salisbury of Otto Wood, the notorious criminal from the 1930s.
He served as a trolley guide on Saturdays and sometimes spoke to school classes about history.
It was not unusual for Whitman to go wandering through old cemeteries.
Hirst recalled that she and Whitman recently traveled to the old Spring Hill cemetery off Bringle Ferry Road to make some repairs on the late 18th century and early 19th century grave markers.
They had plans to visit a similar cemetery off River Road once the snakes weren’t so prevalent.
“He always needed a project,” Hirst said, describing how from the first day he walked into the museum and volunteered his services he was always doing something for her organization.
Whitman was an accomplished woodworker who built several crucial pieces for display purposes at the museum.
Hirst also recalled how Whitman and her husband drilled every hole in the wall and hung displays when the museum moved into its present haunts at the Community Building.
They called themselves “The Old Farts Club,” she said.
Whitman is survived by his wife, Nancy, and four children. He retired from the Police Department in 1991 after 30 years and was good friends with the late Rowan County Sheriff Bob Martin.
Whitman held a bachelor’s degree from Gardner-Webb College and was a past president of the Salisbury Kiwanis Club.
A good cook, Whitman and his wife enjoyed a quiet dinner in the backyard of their Salisbury home Monday night.
Hirst said he was scheduled to have surgery Thursday on a shoulder but promised he would be at Rowan Museum’s board meeting next week.
She had no doubts he would be there.
By Mark Wineka