He fought in the Falklands, was made an MBE, and even organised the Queen’s Golden Jubilee garden party at Balmoral, but for the family of retired Air Commodore Reg Whittaker, being “the best dad and pop ever” is what they’ll miss the most.
A burgess of Aberdeen City and a man of faith, Reg passed away aged 90 earlier this month.
His children have since paid tribute to the “larger-than-life” man, known for his love of socialising and his devotion to wife Moyreen.
Reginald Whittaker was born on March 27 1933 in Stratford, London.
One of four children for Ivy and Robert Whittaker, who worked in the cotton trade, Reg arrived 10 years after his youngest brother.
Evacuated to Wiltshire during the blitz, only to then experience doodlebugs overhead, Reg was no stranger to tragedy. At nine his brother Jimmy died and then aged 17 he lost his father. In between times he successfully passed his grammar school 11-Plus exam, the first of his family to do so.
Finding life, and love, in the RAF
On completing his education, Reg started working as a clerk for a solicitor. When National Service came calling, he joined the RAF but chose to stay on after serving his time. On being commissioned, his first tour was to Idris in Libya.
Making lifelong friends, watching and playing rugby, Reg found a camaraderie in the air force that would shape his life forever.
On returning to the UK Reg met a young Women’s RAF officer called Moyreen Grant, the daughter of an Aberdeen detective inspector. Joking that his red sports car and legendary charm were hard to resist, he and Moy would form the strongest of unions.
They married in Autumn of 1959 in King’s College Chapel, Aberdeen. In 1961 Reg was posted to New York. He sailed out first, followed by Moyreen who had to leave the WRAF on marrying.
The couple would go on to have three children, Gail, Adrienne and Scott.
Scott said: “The care and hospitality for which they would become synonymous coupled, I’m sure, with mum’s organisational skills, ensured dad returned to the UK, not only with a promotion but also an MBE.”
Ever supportive dad
After only a few postings abroad, he and his family travelled around the UK wherever he was sent next. Often within commuting distance to London, he developed a love of the Daily Telegraph crossword.
A committed father, wherever and whenever he could, Reg would make sure his children – and then later his grandchildren – knew how much he loved and supported them.
Whether drawing smile-raising cartoons and posting them to Gail, Scott, and Adrienne at boarding school, or travelling hundreds of miles to hear one or two lines in a school play by his grandchildren, the Whittakers were never in any doubt that they came from a family with love and devotion at the centre.
No less successful in his career, among his distinguished years of service Reg served as CSMO at Strike Command during the Falklands War. The logistical position he believed he had trained his whole life for, he was part of the team that supported Britain’s longest bombing raid, at Port Stanley.
“Which,” added Scott, “made challenges like refitting a transport plane with a caravan so Margaret Thatcher could visit the Falklands in comfort, seem easy.”
Reg retired from the air force in 1988 having reached the rank of air commodore.
Always someone who sought to be defined by how he was with people – and not just his rank – his final report paid tribute to his character.
It read: “The service in general, and the supply branch in particular, will soon be losing a man of quite exceptional loyalty, whose generosity and kindness is of matchless dimension.”
Air Commodore… and plumber
Reg and Moy moved from Harrogate to spend their retirement in Aberdeen where they already had a house. With a recent plumbing course under his belt, Reg set about turning what had been a student house into a family home.
Quickly making and rekindling friendships from over the years, Reg and Moy also satisfied their thirst for travel in retirement.
European trips to meet old RAF friends, with accompanying postcards sent home, kept them occupied while away but their time at home were no less busy.
Reg joined a luncheon club, enjoyed evenings playing cards, and the couple outworked their strong Christian faith in various Aberdeen churches.
Balmoral jubilee honour
In 2001 Reg readily accepted the honour of organising the Queen’s Golden Jubilee garden party. Over a year of planning ensued. To oversee the run-up to the Balmoral event Reg would regularly take his motorhome to the royal estate and sleep in the grounds, a feat captured in a BBC documentary.
Then invited to attend the event and to meet the Royal Family privately, it was a moment he cherished.
“It was one of his proudest moments,” added Scott, “that and becoming a Burgess of Aberdeen in 2009. Not a bad achievement for a Cockney!”
Underpinning every aspect of Reg’s life was his energetic devotion to his family.
At his funeral service in Gilcomston Church, his children and grandchildren shared tributes. Each one referenced a never-ending supply of hugs and encouragement.
Noting that he never lost his English accent, Gail spoke of a prayer Reg composed for the wedding of his grandchildren. Part of his “ongoing legacy,” she finished her tribute with the accolade, “he was the best dad ever”.
Similarly, Adrienne recounted the instituted tradition of Friday presents. Reg would return home with sweets for each of his kids and a bar of chocolate for Moyreen.
It was also her privilege, she said, to have a shared faith with her father.
While Reg could captivate a crowd, even into his late 80s with his rendition of The one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu, there were private, sacred moments, too.
“I was able to read the Bible to dad and pray with him,” said Adrienne, “on the last day I spent with him.”
‘A pop shaped hole’
In 2023 Reg’s health began to deteriorate. Never complaining, and still often in his trademark yellow jumper and socks, after a spell in Rosewell House, all he wanted was to return home to Moyreen.
The couple celebrated their 64th Wedding anniversary together in October. Sadly, on Sunday, January 7, Reg passed away peacefully at home.
He is survived by Moyreen, Gail, Adrienne and Scott, his sons and daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Adrienne’s daughter Chloe also paid tribute to her pop.
She said: “He was the pop who if I said ‘what would happen if…’ he would always reply, ‘let’s go and find out’.
“There is a pop-shaped hole in all of our lives.”