Mrs. Chatham was born on July 26, 1935 in Tampa, Florida.
Mrs. Chatham is survived by her daughter, Jean Allen of Englewood, FL; her son, David Chatham of Boca Grande, FL; her sister, Isabelle Whidden Joiner of Boca Grande, FL; 4 grandchildren.
A memorial service was held at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Boca Grande on March 26.
Memorial donations can be made to the Gasparilla Island Maritime Museum, PO Box 100, Boca Grande, Fl, 33921 or to the Boca Grande Child Care Center, PO Box 1386, Boca Grande, Fl. 33921.
When someone as close to Boca Grande’s heart as Barbara Whidden Chatham was passes away, it feels like a hole has been made in the fabric of time. It’s just really hard to imagine an island without both Whidden sisters at the helm of the historic marina.
Barbara was born in 1934 to Sam and Leslie Whidden. She and her sister Isabelle grew up with the run of the family marina and restaurant.
By the time she was old enough to see over it, Barbara was working at the soda counter at the restaurant. After her mother died when she was a child, Barbara and her family moved into the marina.
The girls were watched over by the staff when her father was out on the water, but there wasn’t much that she and her sister couldn’t do from an early age when it came to the family business. There are many pictures of them pumping gas and helping customers with the huge tarpon they caught. In her spare time Barbara enjoyed swimming, biking and fishing with her sister.
Thanks to the kindness of Louise duPont Crowninshield, who was a mother-figure in her life, Barbara enjoyed dance classes, summer camp in Maine and attended a private school in Tampa.
While Isabelle remained on the island to take care of the family business, Barbara was determined to see the world. She began attending beauty school in Tampa, but a visit to a friend in California led to her moving out there permanently.
She met and married Pete Chatham while she lived out west, and in 1967 returned to the island with her husband.
Barbara went to work at Evelyn's Beauty Salon and Pete began tending bar around the island. She and Evelyn were the “it” girls when it came time to get your hair done. Eventually, Barbara started up her own shop as well.
When their father passed away, Barbara and Isabelle inherited the marina. Developers approached the sisters, but there was never a question of selling.
The marina was, and is, the family’s lifeblood, and no amount of money could replace it.
In 2001, after extensive repairs and renovation, the Gasparilla Island Maritime Museum opened in the Red Gill Fish House building at the marina. Barbara was hired as curator. She became well-known at her post, sitting behind a giant computer monitor as the years passed and her eyesight faded. There were occasional battles done with that computer, but with the help of her friend, Dave Arner, she was usually triumphant in the end.
“Barbara was really the heart and soul of the museum,” Dave said. “She was, for years, the person that everyone identified with when they came to the museum. She would pull out the photo books and talk to them about the history of the island, she loved to sit down and chat with people.”
Barbara resided with her son, Capt. Dave Chatham, his wife, Jill, and their two children, Charlotte and David Jr. She was well-loved by all children, and in turn they were her pride and joy. Jill met Barbara 12 years ago, when her health was already in decline. Jill became a caretaker and friend to her mother-in-law, and they bonded through their mutual love for Dave.
“When I would take her to her doctor’s appointments, she was always telling me little behind-the-scenes things that had happened around the island,” Jill laughed. “I can’t tell you the details, but they were good stories.”
Nina Houghton, a longtime Boca Grande resident and dear friend to Barbara, said that she was one of the first people she met when she came to the island. “She won me over with her big heart right away,” Nina said. “All the wonderful things she did for the community, and particularly the children, really impressed me. she was my friend to the very end, a warm, close friend. She contributed so much to the community. She was always there for everybody.”
E-mail (required, but will not display)
Notify me of follow-up comments
Click for a larger view