MCGEHEE — James Russell Earl Whitaker, 71, of McGehee, Ark., passed away May 8, 2013, following heart surgery.

MCGEHEE — James Russell Earl Whitaker, 71, of McGehee, Ark., passed away May 8, 2013, following heart surgery.

He was born in Dermott, Ark., January 27, 1942, to Howard Earl and Shirley Gard Whitaker. He graduated from McGehee H.S. in 1960 and attended Henderson State College. There he met and married his wife of 48 years, Ann Blankinship. Ann preceded him in death just over a year ago.

James joined his father in Whitaker Masonry after college and by age 30 he was Businessman of the Year in Arkansas. After leaving construction he became a successful farmer, continuing a family tradition that began in 1890. This career lasted until his retirement in 2008.

James was a deacon of the First Baptist Church of McGehee and served his church and community throughout his life. He traveled across the country with the Red Cross and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention Disaster Relief. From North Dakota floods to New York’s Hurricane Sandy, he worked many long hours serving others. He and Ann worked tirelessly for the McGehee Food Pantry. Countless other acts of kindness and generosity were extended outside of formal organizations.

James loved his family dearly. It was an easy, gentle love that spread naturally to friends and community who saw in him unquestionable integrity. That love extended to nature, where he was completely at home on the farm or in a duck blind. In those settings he was happy. His broad smile and ready wit, the hallmarks of a sweet soul, were there for everyone. We know that he is smiling even now-in heaven.

James was the father of three beautiful families: Sam, wife Alicia, and their sons John Arthur and Harrison Whitaker of Monticello, Ark.; Suzanne, husband Lance, and their children Brittney, Whit, and Grayson Waters of Little Rock, Arkansas; Jim, wife Lesli, and their children Jessica and Scott David of McGehee, Ark. James was preceded in death by his sister, Sherrill Mayo of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He is survived by his sister Vicki Whitaker and her husband Paul Brawner of Midlothian, Texas; and his brother-in-law Curtis, and his wife Brenda Blankinship of Warren, Ark.

A visitation will be held at 5-7 p.m. Friday at Griffin-Culpepper Funeral Service of McGehee. Funeral services will be held at McGehee First Baptist Church at 11:00 a.m. Saturday with burial to follow at Tillar Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations be made to the First Baptist Church of McGehee, Arkansas (P. O. Box 133, McGehee, AR 71654), the McGehee Food Pantry (P. O. Box 903, McGehee, AR 71654), ABSC Disaster Relief (10 Remington Dr., Little Rock, AR 72204), or a charity of your choice.

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