I was saddened to learn the news that Doug Whitaker unexpectedly passed away on 1/9/2014. For those who didn’t know him, Doug was the Director of Artistic Operations at Memphis Symphony and an absolute archetype of the sort of professional arts manager that keeps this field running, often in spite of boom or bust cycles.
He was the type of professional that won’t get singled out for attention vis-a-vis some gilded award from a service organization but without managers like Doug, the show would come to a sudden and unnerving stop.
What made Doug unique wasn’t his exceptional work ethic, his multigenerational knowledge for dozens of orchestras and festivals, or his genuine passion for live classical music that kept him from exploring career opportunities that would have certainly paid more and delivered less stress, it was his core principles that all stakeholders were cut from the same cloth. No one gets preferential treatment and he gave of himself, professionally and personally, to fellow managers and musicians without discrimination.
That doesn’t mean he was a walking, talking love fest; in fact, if you knew him, you’d likely get a chuckle out of that notion. Instead, Doug was about mutual respect and the ability to leave disagreements at the stage door.
One of his qualities I admired most was his seemingly unending capacity to recognize and call out bull shit wherever it reared its ugly head. It didn’t matter if you were a manager, musician, or board member he was an equal opportunity witness who did not suffer such foolishness gladly.
But what I’ll perhaps miss the most is a quality Doug had in spades and this field is already dangerously low on: he was a true egalitarian. Doug could differentiate accomplishment from hype and he didn’t give special dispensation to anyone just because they held a post from a large budget organization. He treated people with a degree of respect they deserved based on their merits and not the size of their paycheck.
In the end, the entire field is better because Doug Whitaker was part of it and he will be sadly missed.