Retiree Elizabeth Whittaker dies at 76


Elizabeth J. "Betty" Whittaker, of Belmont, former associate secretary of the MIT Corporation, died Nov. 30. She was 76.

Whittaker retired in 1993 after 30 years at MIT. She was active in the MIT Women's League and the MIT Retirees Association.

As associate secretary of the Corporation, Whittaker was responsible for the management of the Corporation quarterly meetings, continuing relations and services to MIT trustees and the permanent records of the Corporation.

MIT President Emeritus Howard Johnson, who worked with Whittaker for 17 years, said that even at an institution like MIT where "high quality of people" is expected, "she stood out as a person of the highest competence."

"You could always count on her in every situation," Johnson said. "She had a wide circle of people she knew in the Institute because of her work. She knew how to get things done."

Whittaker was executive assistant to the president during Johnson's tenure, then moved to the Corporation office when he retired. She also helped Johnson research and edit his book, "Holding the Center: Memoirs of a Life in Higher Education."

Her career at MIT overlapped with four presidents -- Johnson, Jerome Weisner, Paul Gray and Charles Vest.

"Betty was a perfectionist in all that she did," said Gray. "I first met her in 1966 when (Johnson) became president and I, as young member of the faculty, was chair of the Freshman Advisory Council. I was at first a bit intimidated by her stern demeanor and her obvious mastery of the Office of the President. Over the years we became friends and I relied on her sound judgment and flawless work during the years she worked with Howard."

Jane Hammond, who knew Whittaker through the MIT Women's League, described her as kind, organized and a good listener. Both women served on a committee that recently revised the league's bylaws.

"She was very clear in her thinking, and if she was muddled she'd always ask if her interpretation was correct," said Hammond. "But mostly she was a superb wordsmith. She was really an ace at English usage."

Whittaker graduated from Wellesley College in 1951 and was an honorary alumna of MIT.

She is survived by her sister, Rosemary W. Crowley, and her husband James J. Crowley of New Jersey; her brother-in-law Robert J. Whalen of Westwood, Mass.; her sister-in-law Ruth D. Whittaker of Pennsylvania; and many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.

Funeral and burial services will be private. There will be a memorial service at MIT at a later date.

Donations may be made to the MIT Women's League, 77 Mass. Ave., Room 10-342, Cambridge, MA 02139.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 7, 2005 (download PDF).


Topics: Obituaries, Staff

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