Winterville’s Mary Whitehead, My Favorite Pianist

Winterville United Methodist Church’s newly retired pianist, Mary Whitehead, has filled the church on the square’s sanctuary and our small town with music for 75 years. That’s a lifetime of tapping the keys for Jesus and for Mary’s neighbors and friends. I got a chance to visit with Mary briefly the other night while standing in line at the funeral home visitation for her late sister-in-law, Latrelle Carney. Mary didn’t look 91 that night. She radiated ageless beauty and charm as she spoke to me in that smooth, warm, Southern-accented voice.
Mary now lives about 15 miles away from Winterville, but she’s still very much a part of our town. If I close my eyes and let my mind drift back to scenes of Winterville in years past, I see Mary in many of my memories. Her distinctive piano playing is the sound track as she plays hymns in the Winterville Methodist’s sanctuary on a Sunday morning. I see her fingers tapping the ivories of a piano in the park gazebo on a hot June day, playing Dixieland songs with the Merry Makers at an early Marigold festival. And who could forget Mary riding in festival parades, beside her husband, the late Wesley Whitehead, our mayor for 23 years, and more recently as parade Grand Marshall in our newly-revived festival?

There are many other women, and men, who can tap the keys of a piano and make it sing and create instant feelings of happiness in those who listen. But I’ve never met anyone else who has the charm and the by-ear natural gift for music that Mary Whitehead possesses and who shares her gifts so graciously. There is music and there is Mary Whitehead. Put them together and you have pure joy.

Note: This post originally appeared on my blogspot blog, Winterville Writer, Feb. 28, 2011.

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