Bridgewater community remembers Carlyle Whitelow

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 8:02 PM EDT
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BRIDGEWATER, Va. (WHSV) - The Bridgewater community is mourning the loss of one of it’s most beloved members, Carlyle Whitelow, who passed away on Friday at Sentara RMH of complications from COVID-19.

Whitelow was Bridgewater College’s first African-American athlete and the first non-HBCU African-American college athlete in Virginia. He later served as a coach and teacher at Bridgewater College for many years.

“He gave his time, passion, energy, love, support financial or otherwise to anybody he saw. It didn’t matter what color, age, creed. It didn’t matter, he was a lover,” said Carter Whitelow, Carlyle’s nephew.

Carlyle was a staple in Bridgewater for decades, to the point the town named Whitelow Park in his honor.

For the last several years he could be seen every morning rain or shine in the Dairy Queen parking lot waiving to everyone who passed.

“There was never a negative word that came out of his mouth, it was always positive, you hear about the glass half full, half empty, his glass was always totally full that’s who he was and that’s how people remember him,” said Joel Slocum, owner of the Bridgewater Dairy Queen.

Slocum moved to Bridgewater to open the Dairy Queen in 1992 and said Carlyle was the first person he met.

“Every year on our anniversary on August 2nd we would receive a happy anniversary card from him every single year. That’ll be missed on our thirtieth anniversary,” said Slocum.

Carlyle loved writing letters and wrote them to many people in the community, as well as his family.

“My uncle wrote us a letter every week since the day we were born, I’m 36 years old so that shows the kind of dedication that my uncle showed to us as a family,” said Carter Whitelow.

“He has kept the post office going. Mr. DeJoy better be worried that Carlyle isn’t buying stamps anymore. He wrote the most beautiful notes,” said Ellen Layman, who knew Carlyle for over 60 years.

Writing letters was just one of the many ways Carlyle showed his love for the community, he would often visit residents in nursing homes and hospitals.

“Carlyle came as close to modeling what a person who calls themselves a Christian can be, I think closer than anybody I ever knew, for him it was 24/7 to all people,” said Dr. Phil Stone, the former president of Bridgewater College.

Phil Stone and Carlyle were friends for nearly 60 years and referred to each other as brothers. Carlyle’s nephews still refer to Stone as ‘Uncle Phil’. Stone recalls the way Carlyle would help his family by visiting his mother in her retirement home.

“He did such things as baking her a cake for her birthday, and when I was traveling as college president he would often say ‘I visited your mother yesterday she’s doing fine’ and he would cover for me if I couldn’t be there on a Sunday to see her,” said Stone.

In his time at Bridgewater College, Carlyle taught and coached football, basketball, and tennis. He leaves behind a lasting legacy on the school.

“Whether you were a student or a fellow coach he kept you accountable, and I think he was good for many many people, he was a mentor, he was a role model, he was all the things you expect somebody in that position of a coach and a teacher to be,” said Curt Kendall, Athletic Director at Bridgewater College.

Carlyle made an impact in the lives of countless students in his time at the school.

“People far and wide from Richmond to California to Texas all reach out to me and talk about how much my uncle and my family meant to them, and I just want to express that we love you back,” said Carter Whitelow.

“As a teacher he not only was kind to his students but took great consideration for their futures, how to advise them, encouraging them, trying to get them to look at various alternatives and options for their careers,” said Dr. Phil Stone.

As a teacher and coach Carlyle was beloved by his students. “He was always smiling he had a big heart and he was very encouraging to me as a student with my tennis playing he had more faith in me than I did in myself at times,” said Renee Branner, one of Carlyle’s former students.

Carlyle grew up during the era of segregation, but always found a way to show kindness to those who showed hate. Many of those he visited in retirement homes and hospitals over the years were of the same generation who imposed segregation on him and his family, but he still treated them with love.

“I think it takes a remarkable person to go in and say, ‘not only will I forgive what I’ve experienced but I will treat you as a person I care about’ and he did that. He was a remarkable man,” said Dr. Phil Stone.

Carlyle played a vital role in bringing people in the valley of all backgrounds together.

“He was a generational leader in the sense that as a young black man he grew up in the era of Jim Crow and as a generational leader led us through that to where we are today,” said Bill Kyger, a longtime friend of Carlyle’s.

“He here in Bridgewater as a Black man in a very predominantly white community lived with the philosophy that everybody is my brother, everybody is my sister,” said Ellen Layman. “There were probably incidents where he could’ve carried a bitterness in his heart, there wasn’t room in his heart for any bitterness. He was full of joy and love and reaching out to everybody.”

Carlyle was described by many as a great friend who could always be counted on.

“Carlyle was a fine, real truthful friend, he would always greet you with a smile and he always wanted to focus on you as a person, not on himself,” said Bob May, a Bridgewater resident.

“He was a person who demonstrated love in everything that he did, he was a friend to everyone he met, he met no strangers,” said Bill Kyger.

Carlyle loved his family more than anything, and played a huge role in his nephew’s lives, helping to guide them after their father, his brother, passed away in 2001.

“We were a rudder without a ship and uncle Cotton was instrumental in getting us back on track, giving us love support, kindness, generosity,” said Carter Whitelow.

“You knew at your lowest point whenever that would be, Uncle Cotton would be there, Carlyle Whitelow would be there at your lowest point, Carlyle Whitelow would also be there at your highest point celebrating with you.”

While the loss of Carlyle will be an unfillable void in the Bridgewater community, the many people who loved him hope to carry on his legacy by living as he did.

“He wants you to know as he left this world that when you see people speak to them, acknowledge them, treat them right, that’s what this world is all about, we need more like him and we’re gonna miss him,” said Curt Kendall.

Carter Whitelow said he is grateful for all the love and support the Bridgewater community has shown his family and hopes they will continue to live like Carlyle would’ve wanted.

“Loving, leading, and living and that’s what we all need to do going forward, smile more, laugh more, spread more joy, that’s what he would want you to do,” he said.

A memorial service for Carlyle is being planned.

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