Cleveland “Buster” Whittington Passes: One Of First African-American Boone Fire Members, Long Time Courier For Local Bank

(Obituary written by his son-in-law, Harry Pickett, Jr., Deputy Sports Editor of the Charlotte Observer. Pickett was former Sports Editor of the Watauga Democrat from 1983 to 1987.)

Cleveland “Buster” Whittington, age 81, of Eastview Drive, Boone, passed away Tuesday morning, May 29, 2018, at Glenbridge Health and Rehabilitation in Boone.

Buster was born July 22, 1936 in Watauga County, a son of the late John Henry Whittington and Texie Shearer Whittington. He was a retired employee of First Union Bank in Boone.

The name, Cleveland, just never did fit him. He was “Buster” to family and longtime friends, to people who were mesmerized by his engaging smile, his sense of humor, his love or the mountains and his community.

Whittington, who often joked about his quality third-grade education, was as comfortable in the company of mayors, bank executives and lawyers as with his fishing and hunting buddies and the raucous breakfast crowd he faithfully joined each morning at McDonald’s. If you’ve biked, jogged or driven past the modest gray house on Junaluska Road, you’re pretty familiar with Buster Whittington-whether you knew him personally or not. Sitting in his carport with a chaw of tobacco tucked in his cheek, he greeted you with a friendly wave, smile and a hearty shout: “Hey!”

Yes, that was Buster, one of the first African-Americans to join the Boone Fire Department back in the 1970’s, who raised champion hunting dogs and who had little trouble making friends. Buster was curious. If he noticed a family he’d never seen before at one of the restaurants he frequented, he wouldn’t hesitate to walk over, say hello and ask where they were from. People were never strangers to Buster-they were either friends or people he just hadn’t yet met.

Until last fall, when illness forced him to enter a Boone nursing home, Buster was a popular fixture around town. Not much changed with his arrival at Glenbridge Health and Rehabilitation. In February, guess which resident was voted Valentine’s Day King? Bust proudly wore that crown. “He’s just Mr. Personality,” said Peggy Beghtol, Glenbridges’s receptionist. “He was loved by everybody, always pleasant. In my three years here no one has had as many visitors. He had constant visitors. He was just the most well-known person in town who was here. My goodness, everybody knows Buster.”

Velma Burnley, 97, was for 18 years the mayor of Boone and retired as a vice-president with First Union Bank, now Wells Fargo. Buster worked there for years as a courier. “He carried money and bills from one store to the other (in the region),” said Burnley, who lives in Charlotte, “He was just a dear friend. He was someone you could to lunch with. Buster had plenty of personality. He got along with everybody.” Burnley recalled that Buster and his late brother, Linnie, would care for her two dogs when she was away on business trips. “He was just a a good fella, ” Burnely said of Buster.

Bank teller Sharon Green was hired 30 years ago at First Union. She said Whittington was one of the longtime employees who made her feel welcome. “He’s just an awesome man-friendly, always joking around, ” said Green, who lives in Deep Gap. “He was always happy and made everyone happy. Always upbeat, never saw him sad.” In recent years, Green said it was a treat for the bank’s tellers when Buster drove up. “It was always a pleasure to see him. He always asked about my family and about my dog. I’m very saddened.”

Buster is survived by one daughter, Dianne Whittington Pickett and husband Harry Pickett, Jr. of Charlotte; one grandson, Harry “Brandon” Pickett of Charlotte, and one sister, Sarah Whittington Bradshaw of Granite Falls. He is also survived by a host of nieces, nephews, and friends.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his wife, Beatrice West Whittington; four sisters, Matty Ruth Whittington, Virginia Ann Hunt, Dora Harshaw, and Alice Flowers, and four brothers, David, William, Lee, and Linnie Whittington.

A private memorial service for Cleveland “Buster” Whittington will be held at a later date.

Online condolences may be sent to the Whittington family at www.hamptonfuneralnc.com

Hampton Funeral and Cremation Service is in charge of the arrangements.