Bob Whitmore passed away over the weekend after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 73.
Star basketball player for Notre Dame from 1966-1969, he played center and was inducted into the ND basketball “Ring of Honor” in January 2019. Most ND fans don’t really know much else about him, after all he last played in South Bend over 50 years ago.
Well, I have a little Bob Whitmore story to tell.
The first Notre Dame basketball game I ever attended was on Saturday January 4th, 1969, against Saint Peter’s. I was 7 years old. The game was played in the then brand new Athletic and Convocation Center, “The ACC”. The Irish prevailed that day running their season record to 6-2. For a 7-year-old it was a big day, accompanied by my older brother, my Dad and my Uncle I couldn’t wait to eat some popcorn and to see the Fighting Irish in the flesh.
The players on that team, which was coached by Johnny Dee, included sophomores Austin Carr, Sid Catlett and Collis Jones. Those three had made up one of the top recruiting hauls at ND, ever. Austin Carr in particular had been sensational that season averaging 22 points pregame.
But the 1968-69 team which was ranked as high as 4th in the country during the season also boasted some top-notch senior leadership. “The Bob-sey Twins” as they were known, Bob Arnzen a 6-5 forward who averaged over 20 points per game in his Notre Dame career and Bob Whitmore.
Bob Whitmore was a dominant big man in his day. In High School he had led his Dematha team to a 46-43 win over Power Memorial in what has been called one of the greatest high school games ever. Memorial was led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and had been on a 71-game winning streak. Bob Whitmore was one of the key players who ended that amazing streak.
A recruiting coup for Coach Johnny Dee, the 6-8 Whitmore had a major impact on Notre Dame basketball fortunes. As a three-year starter, Whitmore compiled 47 career double doubles, six 20 point 20 rebound games and set a school record that stands to this day with 30 rebounds in a game against St. Norbert’s in 1967.
Back to my story. I don’t remember a lot about that first ND game I attended. I remember the Irish won pretty easily and I remember being amazed at how big the players were. Oh, and the popcorn was pretty good.
I better remember what happened after the game.
My Dad and Uncle escorted my brother and I down to the tunnel near the ND locker room. Pens were produced and with game programs in hand we were in search of autographs. Coach Johnny Dee emerged from the locker room first and I recall him signing and being a jovial out spoken guy, I think he was smoking a cigar? But then the players emerged and I was a like a sapling among redwoods. I had never stood so close to a college basketball team and my jaw dropped at the size of the players.
The biggest of them all was Whitmore, and encouraged by my Dad I approached him. Bob smiled, graciously signed my program and asked me my name. Nervous as all get out, I think I correctly mumbled the answer and said “thank you”. Bob Whitmore then reached, way down, patted me on the head and told me to work hard in school. He turned and walked away.
I was about as star struck as a 7-year-old could be, and I had a new hero.
The story has a second chapter because in 2015 somehow the name “Robert Whitmore” popped up on my Facebook page. Could it be? A quick investigation revealed that yes it was THAT Bob Whitmore. Judging from the number of his “friends”, it looked like he was fairly new to the FB world. I had a chance to be one of his first, “friends”.
I sent Bob a friend request and, in a day, or so he accepted.
I couldn’t help but reach out to my new “friend” by private messenger. We exchanged some pleasantries and I ended up telling him my story about meeting him in 1969. I told him that I had followed his advice and had worked hard in school. I thanked him for taking a few moments with me that day so long ago and told him how much it had meant to me.
Gracious again he told me it was nice to hear from a fan and he asked me to do something for him. He ended our short social media connection with the following, “do something nice for someone today.”
Simple, yet eloquent. His words have stuck with me.
Bob and I didn’t take our FB relationship much further, but he touched my life and with his passing, I feel like I need to pass something on.
If you have enjoyed this tribute, if you would like to honor Bob Whitmore, do him a favor….DO SOMETHING NICE FOR SOMEONE TODAY.
Rest in Peace Bob Whitmore.