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March 17, 2017

‘Pops, Patriots and Fireworks’

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‘Everyone’s friend.’ Remembering Harry Whitman



Harry Whitman during his days at the Bedford Sportsman.

“Hey buddy, hey pal.” Family and friends of Harold “Harry” C. Whitman III say they could always expect him to deliver his common greeting, usually from behind his desk at the Bedford Sportsman. 

Mr. Whitman, who died Feb. 27 at the age of 85, is remembered as the beloved husband of Aimee, devoted father of two, and a man who had no enemies. 

After beginning his career on Wall Street, Mr. Whitman started the Bedford Sportsman, a fishing supply store then located in Bedford Hills, with his childhood friends Larry Kennedy and Bill Gutelius. 

Mr. Whitman held court at the Sportsman for 38 years before selling the store in 2008. Those who knew him said Mr. Whitman’s customers became his friends and his friends became his family — so almost everyone got the “family discount.” The camaraderie Mr. Whitman cultivated at the store has become a large part of his legacy. 

“People came to the store because they wanted to see him,” his daughter, Cindy Swank, said. 

Despite owning a shop full of quality fishing gear, her father did not participate in the sport, Ms. Swank said. “The irony was that he wasn’t really a fisherman, but he had a fishing store,” she noted.

Tom Connor, one of Mr. Whitman’s longtime friends and a regular customer at the Sportsman since 1972, said contradictions like that one were what made the store a great place.

"Harry didn’t know a damn thing about this stuff and people loved him for it,” Mr. Connor said. He explained how famous anglers would visit the store just to chew the fat with Mr. Whitman. 

In his memoir, “Ghost of a Chance,” bandleader and pianist Peter Duchin simply described Mr. Whitman’s paradox, writing, “One of my favorite fishing buddies doesn’t fish.” He noted, however, that Mr. Whitman’s appreciation for the sport ran deep. About the Sportsman, Mr. Duchin wrote, “Everything at Harry’s is top quality and in seeming disarray — the way a store should be.”

Mr. Connor likened the store to a social club, with Mr. Whitman at the center of it all. 

“Here’s Harry behind the front desk kind of pressing the buttons on the conversations, the characters,” he said. Mr. Connor added, “I’ve never met anybody who was as engaging as this man in my life.”

Mr. Connor said that even though Mr. Whitman was not an avid fisherman himself, he shaped Mr. Connor’s view of the sport by introducing him to other fishermen at the Bedford Sportsman. 

Mr. Connor explained that Mr. Whitman became a kind of mentor to him since he first set foot in the Sportsman as a 19-year-old interested in learning about fly fishing. Over the decades of their friendship, Mr. Whitman even had a hand in influencing Mr. Connor on some major decisions, such as moving to Bedford and starting a business. 

Mr. Whitman’s simple but classy style also made an impression on his longtime friend.

“He definitely conveyed this aristocratic demeanor, but at the heart of it, he was like the most regular guy you had ever met,” Mr. Connor said. 

“People always had a great time when they were with Harry Whitman,” his son, Cutler Whitman, said.

The younger Whitman worked off and on at his dad’s store between 1987 and 1990. One way he and his father amused themselves was by one calling the other at the Sportsman and pretending to be a big customer. 

He explained his father, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986, never complained about anything, even as more of his symptoms started to show shortly after opening the store.   

When his health issues prevented Mr. Whitman from attending Sunday church services, Mr. Connor began bringing Holy Communion to his home. This weekly routine earned Mr. Connor the moniker “the deacon” at the Sportsman, where all the regulars had a nickname. 

Ms. Swank called Mr. Whitman “an amazing, amazing father.” As she recounted, Mr. Whitman spent countless hours with her and her brother tobogganing, skating on Aspetong pond, playing tennis at Bedford Golf and Tennis Club, touch football in the backyard, two-stepping in the living room to Dixieland jazz, and playing cards and board games. 

As a fourth-generation Bedford resident, Ms. Swank said her father loved his family history in the town. She explained that his grandfather and namesake, Harold Whitman, deeded a portion of the family’s property on which the Bedford Oak stands to the Town of Bedford in 1942. He made the gift in honor of his wife, Georgia Squires Whitman. 

Harry and Aimee Whitman celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary last May. Mr. Whitman met his wife in 1959 in New York City, after attending Georgetown University and serving two years in the Navy. 

Dave Angus, who had been friends with Mr. Whitman since the two were teenagers and worked in the business office at the Sportsman, said Mr. Whitman’s warmth and subtle sense of humor never changed.

“He was just a gem of a guy,” Mr. Angus said. 

According to Mr. Angus, the two kept in touch after he retired to Pennsylvania in 2006, talking nearly every day. 

Mr. Angus described Mr. Whitman as “one of a kind” who had a penchant for bringing people together. 

“Everybody liked him,” Mr. Angus said. “He didn’t have an enemy in the world.”

Ms. Whitman validated the claim, saying among all that her husband was, “he was everyone’s friend.” 

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


Pound Ridge/Scotts Corners

  1. Scotts Corner Market – Trinity Corners Shopping Center;  55 Westchester Avenue

  2. Pound Ridge Sunoco — 66 Westchester Avenue    

Bedford Village

  1. Bedford Rexall Pharmacy — Hunting Ridge Mall; 424 Old Post Road  

  2. Village Green Deli — Village Green; Routes 22 and 172    

  3. Bedford Shell — Routes 22 and 172 (at blinking light); 848 So. Bedford Road

  4. Village Service Center —193 Pound Ridge Road (at Long Ridge Road intersection)    

Bedford Hills

  1. Bedford Hills Deli – 7 Babbitt Road    

  2. Bueti’s Deli – 526 Bedford Road (Route 117)

  3. Meme’s Treats — 17 Adams Street


  1. Little Joe’s Books– 25 Katonah Avenue     

  2. CVS – Katonah Shopping Center; 294 Katonah Avenue   

  3. Katonah Sunoco – 105 Bedford Road

  4. The Reading Room — 19 Edgemont Road

  5. Weinstein’s Pharmacy — 101 Katonah Avenue

  6. DeCicco Family Markets — 132 Bedford Road

  7. Katonah Pharmacy – 202 Katonah Avenue

Mount Kisco

  1. Teamo/Mt. Kisco News – 239 Main Street    

Cross River

  1. Cross River Shell Station – Route 35    

  2. Cameron’s Deli –  890 Route 35

  3. Cross River Pharmacy – 20 North Salem Road

  4. DeCicco Family Markets – 1 Orchard Plaza   

Goldens Bridge

Cardware Store – 100 N. County Shopping Center