John Whitney Obituary

John  Whitney
John Whitney

December 1, 1945 - April 13, 2020
Born in Casper, Wyoming
Resided in Anhorage, Alaska


John Whitney, 74-year-old Anchorage resident, became whole again on April 13, 2020. He died after a multi-year decline associated with a traumatic brain injury sustained in a mountain climbing accident in his younger years.

Born in Wyoming, he was the second of three children to Robert "Bob" and Mariella Whitney. He was raised on a dairy farm in Cheyenne and became an avid 4H participant, soap box derby champion, baritone and French horn player, long-time state pole vault record holder and star high school quarterback.

John was a Sloan Scholar at Occidental College where he earned an undergraduate physics degree and married Sue Roenigk, his classmate and lifelong partner of 52 years. He earned a Ph.D. in geophysics at the University of Washington in Seattle and spent his early career teaching in academia before coming to Alaska to work for the U.S. Geological Survey in 1975. He subsequently worked in the oil industry as a research geophysicist in the Brooks Range and then joined the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration for another 25 years as the state Scientific Support Coordinator for prevention and response to marine oil spills until his retirement in 2014.

Family and community were paramount to John. He was a volunteer coach for all three of his kids' soccer teams, race starter at school ski races, early organizer of the Junior Nordic program and horn player in the Anchorage Concert Band. He helped in the construction of the Karl Eid Ski Jump facilities, with the Coast Guard Auxiliary out of Whittier and in early Prince William Sound beach clean-up efforts.

He taught his kids to use tools as they built and maintained endless porches on their energy-efficient wood-heated home that he designed and built. He mentored science projects and involved his family in projects ranging from the construction of a barn from secondhand materials to building a treehouse, epic buoy swings and homemade wooden gifts. In winter, he would build a backyard hockey rink, light the sledding runs, build snow caves - and sleep in them with his kids - coach his kids in their Nordic skiing pursuits and provide exact timing splits during ski races. In summer, he terrorized his family on river rafting trips, made his kids haul unending loads of firewood, made them water hand-planted trees daily around the property with a maddeningly low-volume hose and led his family on outdoor adventures around the state. Most recently, he spent several enjoyable summers sharing his knowledge and working alongside his son Rob on the construction of a family cabin.

John had a keen sense of adventure, and his actions were motivated by his passions and not by what the rest of the world thought of him. He was known to cut his own access paths in Bicentennial Park across the street from his home, a number of which have become major trails today (but we won't tell you which ones). He tried to bike or ski every day, often on the Anchorage Coastal Trail during his lunch hour. He never met a source of firewood he didn't like, and he would cut and split it all himself. He had a weakness for ice cream and homemade chocolate chip cookies that was passed on to his children. In his later years, "Doc Whitney," as he was known to his co-workers, loved to explore the nooks and crannies of Prince William Sound with Sue on their aptly named "DocWalloper."

He is survived by his wife, Sue; children, Erin (Frank), Rob (Holly) and Heather (Frederick); grandchildren, Rienzi, Maria, Ruby Joy and Brooks; brother, Alan (Lois); sister, Carol (Dave); and nieces and nephews.

He taught us all that it is a gift to be alive and explore wild places, that life is about people and to expect the unexpected. We look forward to being with him on top of each mountain we climb.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, consider supporting maintenance of trails and your favorite outdoor places, or just split a few extra cords of wood in John's name.

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Funeral Home
Cremation Society of Alaska
1306 E 74th Avenue
Anchorage, AK United States 99518