Nephew remembers uncle’s spirit


For The Tribune

Old remembrances often come in episodes — moments disconnected and recalled as snapshots of a person.

Sidney Showalter, a Bartholomew County native and nephew of the late Gov. Edgar Whitcomb, traveled from Naples, Florida, to Indiana this week for his uncle’s funeral services.

One of those services was conducted Saturday at Rome in Perry County near where Whitcomb lived before his death Feb. 4 at the age of 98.

A second was conducted Sunday in Whitcomb’s hometown of Hayden in western Jennings County. The state also had memorial ceremonies Thursday and plans to do so again today.

Showalter, 73, said he doesn’t dwell on the sadness of loss or the pain of recollection when thinking of his uncle.

Instead, Showalter remembers sitting on a sailboat off the coast of Greece in the early 1990s as Whitcomb listed all of the Indiana political colleagues he had worked with over the years.

So many had stayed in the game.

Former Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar became a U.S. senator. Former gubernatorial contender Earl Butz left Indiana to serve as U.S. secretary of agriculture under President Richard Nixon.

Yet, here was Whitcomb, bobbing off the azure coast of the old world, pondering life and his seven-year journey, sailing around the world.

“I got the better deal,” Whitcomb told his nephew, as Showalter recalled Thursday.

It was a long, strange road for the former governor, Showalter said.

His earliest recollections of his uncle are from a tiny, wooden home near Hayden, about 8½ miles east of Seymour.

Even today, the hamlet is too small to appear in census population records — little more than a cluster of houses along a stretch of old U.S. Route 50 — one of the first ribbons of pavement to stretch from coast to coast.

This was Whitcomb’s childhood home, Showalter said.

No plumbing carried water into the house, and it was heated by a potbelly, coal-burning stove in the kitchen.

Hardly the usual beginnings for a man who would become a respected attorney, statesman and explorer of the world, Showalter said.

But Whitcomb was always a man of adventurous spirit, Showalter said. Poverty, practicality and even common sense were no barriers to his uncle’s ambitions.

“He really didn’t have any ocean-sailing experience,” Showalter said. “I met with him in Greece, and I thought, ‘He has no training.’”

When he started his journey, Whitcomb didn’t know how to sail safely into a port at night.

Twice, he accidentally wrapped lines around the propeller of his ship, jamming the engines, his nephew said.

Still, Whitcomb managed to weather some pretty tough storms, Showalter said. He managed to navigate his 30-foot fiberglass Arpege yacht through the Panama Canal and across the wild, unpredictable Pacific.

Although Showalter returned to Indiana to honor his uncle, he said he isn’t here to mourn. Instead, he views his uncle’s death philosophically.

Death takes us all, Showalter said. There is no reason to be saddened by that.

Less so for his uncle, who was privileged to see and do so much in his time on Earth, Showalter said.

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