Frances Burdette Whitney 9/26/1933- 6/6/2020
Born Frances Marion Burdette, AKA, Mom, on September 26, 1933 to Leon Burdette and Gertrude Remick Burdette in St. Johnsbury, VT, has died at the age of 86 in Essex Jct., VT of causes related to kidney failure with her loving family at her side.
St. Johnsbury and the surrounding area would become near and dear to her over the course of her lifetime. She developed many friendships over the years lasting right up to her passing. As a young girl she had to deal with the traumatic breakup of her family caused by her father’s sudden departure from the family and the subsequent divorce of her parents. A few years later her mother, Gertrude would meet and marry Robert (Bob) Gillander, a young farmer from Waterford, VT. Bob would become her stepdad and best friend for many years until his sudden passing in 1979.
Growing up on a farm was a special time for Mom. The world was engaged in WWII and with rationing and shortages, self-sufficiency was an important quality for many, many families in the area. Life could be hard in the Northeast Kingdom, but they persevered. They milked a small herd of Jersey cows and Mom had a special calf whose name was Beauty. Her work with Beauty would earn them a blue ribbon at the Caledonia County Fair. She loved all animals and there was always a dog or two and a collection of cats that needed her attention. She never outgrew that love. In the spring it was time to make maple syrup. An activity that Mom absolutely loved. In the summer there were gardens to be planted, hay to be mowed, trout to be caught and swimming holes to be explored. In the fall, it was harvest time and time to go back to school, an activity Mom loved. In the winter, the hills were for sliding, farm ponds were skated on and clumsy efforts were made to learn how to ski on the hillsides of Passumpsic and Waterford.
But it was school that made Mom happiest. There were friends and activities all through the day. On the weekends, the family would attend church. It was there that her lifelong love of music was nourished. She began to sing in the church choir at the age of 6. She developed an interest in playing the piano about the same time. There was no money for a piano in the family home, but there were pianos in the homes of friends and church goers. A deal was struck to begin lessons and Mom never looked back. She played the piano up until 6 months or so ago when she just lost the strength that she needed to play. While she was at the St. Johnsbury Academy, she decided to learn how to play the trombone. This earned her an academic letter from the Music department and a trip to the All State Music Festival. She played both instruments at the First Baptist Church and sang in the choir there for the better part of the last 60 years. She was also a member of the handbell chorus. Mom is a lifetime member of the First Baptist Church of Burlington, VT. A place that remains very dear to her and it is a place that she made many friends and developed relationships that are treasured today. It was many years ago that Mom accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior and has lived in accordance with his teachings all her life.
Mom knew early on that she wanted to be a teacher. She graduated from the St. Johnsbury Academy in 1951 and she was enrolled in the fall semester at the Lyndon Teachers College. She graduated from Lyndon with the class of 1955 after attending for 4 years on a full scholarship. The only catch was that she had to commit to teaching in Vermont for at least 4 years. She accepted a job with the Burlington School System in the fall of 1955 and continued to teach kindergarten and first grade for the next 43 years in the Burlington schools. She taught at C.P. Smith, The Flynn School, St. Marks Church, from which the school district leased classroom space. She accepted a position with the Lawrence Barnes Annex Program which was in the classroom wing of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on St. Paul St in Burlington.
The program was developed to reach out to young children who needed some transition time from kindergarten to first grade. Before it became a catch phrase, Mom was the was literally the champion of “no child left behind.” That program continued until the Cathedral was destroyed in a tragic fire. She would remain with the Lawrence Barnes School for 27 years up until her retirement. Being a teacher is what defined Mom.
And as a teacher she knew the power of music works in so many ways. One of the things that stood out in Mom’s classroom was the ever-present piano. An instrument that she insisted in having in her classroom. This insistence was not always welcome, but Mom never gave up on her insistence and always seemed to prevail. The opportunity to deliver some musical knowledge and joy to her students resulted in lots of boisterous sing-alongs. Mom also loved to sing learning songs to all eager students.
During this time, while she was beginning her teaching career, she met and married Albert S. Whitney, with whom she would have 3 children, Jay, Dawnaly and Ruth. Unbeknownst to her, Mr. Whitney had serious problems that he kept well-hidden and it led him to betray her in the worst way one could possibly imagine. She separated from him in the spring of 1982 and a final divorce was granted in the summer of 1984. These serious problems he harbored would eventually cause Mr. Whitney to become estranged from the family. Through this whole process, Mom was the epitome of strength, grace, and courage. These were lessons that we all benefitted from. Mom picked up the pieces and continued without looking back.
She sold the shared home in Richmond and bought a house in Williston. While in Williston she played her trombone with the Williston Town Band. Something that she would continue for several years. Even as she moved to her present home in Essex Jct.
There was one good thing that did come of this marriage, besides her children. Mom learned to ride a motorcycle! She would ride to school much to the delight of the students and staff. This was an activity that she continued until an ankle injury prevented her from safely holding her motorcycle up. It was something that she came to deeply miss.
Mom retired from teaching full time in 1997. She felt she had more to give and she accepted substitute assignments for another 3 years. As her orthopedic problems began to mount, climbing 3 or 4 flights of stairs several times a day was more than she could manage. But she was not quite ready to give up working entirely.
She accepted a position as the administration assistant at the First Baptist Church. In that position she met many folks from all walks of life. Because she was a teacher, those who came into the church office with mental health issues, developmental disabilities, substance abuse issues, etc. were all welcomed and treated with a special kindness. Mom was compassionate and empathetic to their special needs. She would listen, she would counsel, she would help in most any way that she could and while she was doing all this, if you were not careful, you might learn something. And, they would always get a good cup of coffee and something to eat as well as a small ration of M&M’s. This compassion and kindness were the hallmarks that she lived by. She would retire from this endeavor along with her dear friend, the Rev. David O’Brien on her 80th birthday.
It was about this time that she began to have problems with her kidneys and developed congestive heart failure as a result. She started dialysis in her 81st year and made the trip to the UVMMC Dialysis Center on Joy Dr. in So. Burlington for 5 and ½ years. This happened three times every week.
Even with this schedule she managed to get to the coast of Maine, one of her all time favorite places, for the “Sista’s weekend” which involved all her half-sisters, the daughters, the granddaughters, nieces, and close female friends of the family. A good time was always sure to be had. She went to the Gale and Morton family reunion in Lyndon every year. Her Grandmother was a Morton who married William Remick and her grandmother’s sister married into the Gale family. The rest is living history.
After over 5 years of dialysis, which at times was very painful, she made a courageous decision to discontinue her dialysis treatments as her heart grew weaker and weaker. Again, she met the challenge head on, with grace and dignity.
Mom is survived by her children, Jay and his wife Karen of Georgia, VT. Dawnaly Dax and her husband Kris Vanderoudermeulen of Graham, NC, and Ruth Edwards of her husband Dennis Edwards of Overland Park, KS. She is also survived by her four grandchildren, Sara and Laura McCarthy of Greensboro, NC, Regan Denmire of Greensboro, NC, and Amy Daudelin of Alburgh, VT. There are also several great grandchildren, cousins, nieces, and nephews as well as the extended Gale and Morton families.
She is also survived by 3 half-sisters, Robin Burdette of Quechee, Vt., Dianne Goodspeed of Hartford, VT, and Joanne Wilson of Boscawen, NH.
Mom was pre-deceased by her Mother, Gertrude, her Stepfather Bob, her sister Marilyn McKerley, and her brother Gordon Burdette.
We would like to extend our deepest appreciation to the staff at the UVMMC Dialysis Center, The UVMMC Cardiology Dept., the UVMMC Interventional Radiology Dept., the caring and compassion shown to Mom during her illness was exceptional. We would also like to extend our appreciation to the staff at Bayada Hospice and Home Healthcare. With their assistance Mom’s wishes to be at home were made possible.
Most of all we would to extend a heartfelt Thank You to Dr. Joe Haddock, who was more than her long time physician, he and his wife Carol, were loyal friends.
Mom’s earthly remains will be cremated per her wishes. Because of the current health situation, we will look at opportunities to have a memorial service later in the year. Corbin and Palmer oversees arrangements.
Memorial donations may be made to the First Baptist Church, 81 St. Paul St. Burlington, VT or to the animal welfare organization of your choosing.
Mom’s ashes will be inurned at the Riverview Cemetery on RT.5 in Passumpsic, VT at the convenience of the family. Her remains will be close to her parents and grandparents, next to the stream that she learned how to fish in as a young girl. She will truly be at home.
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