Jay Carroll Whinnery of Grand Junction, Colorado passed away on July 26th, 2023. The heartbeat of the family, Jay died at age 87 of natural causes with his wife, Joan, and daughters Jill, Jenni, and Joelle at his side.
Our dad was born on April 8, 1936 in Omaha, Nebraska to Jean and Melba Whinnery where he had an adventurous childhood with his brother, Kent (“Chick” to the family). He was a funny and mischievous youth, and we relished every story (misadventure?) he told about playing tricks on others and narrowly escaping getting caught. Most stories started with, “Never do this, but one time….” and continued to shock and delight us with hilarious shenanigans planned down to the most intricate detail to, a) elicit the most satisfying reaction from the victim, and b) increase the odds of escaping. The cast of characters often included Dad’s brother, Chick, but sometimes the brothers would turn their devilish ideas on each other, like the time Dad dropped whole cloves of garlic into Chick’s open mouth as he napped. Despite being a young rapscallion, Dad went on to pursue a journalism degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha where his love for the English language flourished. As an adult, he often wrote letters to the editor which were easily the most articulate and had unique perspectives and thought-provoking insights. Never one for the spotlight he never signed these letters, preferring his writing to provoke the reader’s thought without bias.
He served in the Coast Guard from 1961-1968 and had a fondness for the ocean, going sailing whenever he had the opportunity and running along the water’s edge of Santa Barbara where he moved in his 20’s. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he became a police officer for the Santa Barbara Police Department, where he continued to serve for the next 25 years. In December of 1966 Jay agreed to go on a blind date where he met the love of his life, Joan Belier. Jay and Joan fell head over heels and were married a short time later. Soon after came three daughters, Jill, Jenni, and Joelle which was quite ironic since Jay didn’t really want children. But boy did he rise to the challenge! He taught his daughters such un-girly things such as football, baseball, and how to defend themselves. Dad made sports a central part of our lives growing up, not only for the fitness aspect, but also for the purpose of enjoying the outdoors. He was an avid runner his entire adult life, running before it was a “thing” and encouraged us kids to run as well. To this day we 3 “girls” still love to move and recreate all due to the example Dad set. What we did not realize at the time was that Dad was also teaching us to be strong individuals, and to value and stand up for ourselves.
One of our favorite stories about Dad is of us telling him that the local little league coach asked us to be the cheerleaders for his team. When we told Dad, he responded without hesitation and directed us to march right back and tell that coach we were meant to participate in the game, not to decorate the sidelines. This was just one of dozens of stories of him developing in us the strength of character we possess today. As strong as we were, there were still times where we needed Dad’s help and protection, which Dad was quick to give. Each one of us has a story about Dad coming to our defense with such vigor that it will make your eyes snap open. Normally so stoic and quietly observant, Dad left no doubt in the minds of those who dared mess with his girls that they should beat a path in the opposite direction and never return. Details of these interactions are omitted; however, suffice it to say that Dad’s form of justice was swift and effective. In that same vein, potential boyfriends were put on edge on Day 1 upon picking us up for first dates, which oddly coincided with Dad’s gun cleaning schedule. Only one of these guys was brave enough to stick around.
Dad was an intellectual and loved serious reading. We never saw him read fiction (except that one time he read Stephen King’s The Shining which chilled him to the bone and he loved it!). Instead, he read numerous books about American History and the West, and even more about World War II. His library extended from floor to ceiling, making him one of the most well-read people we’ve ever known.
Dad also enjoyed listening to classical music like Beethoven and Mozart. He could be found many times lying on his stomach, arms folded under his chin, on the carpet in front of the record player lulled to sleep by his favorite music. Much to his delight Mom was an avid piano player and he would also take up that same position next to the piano as Mom played Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag or Claude Debussy’s Clair de lune. We’d laugh at him when he’d wake up unable to move because his arms had fallen asleep.
Dad read the newspaper daily, and one thoughtful letter to the editor expressed dismay at the numbers of retired folks who besmirch today’s state of public education and students’ lack of literacy, all while sipping their lattes under the shade of an umbrella. The writer went on to challenge these people who have the time and ability to volunteer in a local classroom. So Dad in his 80’s did just that, spending time each week in an elementary school classroom helping kids to read, and the kids loved him! They all made cards for “Mr. Jay” at the end of the school year that Dad cherished. It was a great help to the teacher as well. He also volunteered to help adult non-English speakers learn the language, encouraging those that showed a desire to learn. He had a soft and compassionate heart. He never shared this information much, as his goal was not to be acknowledged, but to address a need and help his community.
We could fill a library with all the stories we have about Dad, and know he would be laughing harder than anyone else reading them. We will treasure our memories forever, and know that within each memory Dad can be heard saying, “Thataway!” or “I’m proud of you” and always, “I love you”.
Jay Whinnery will be sorely missed!