Alabama Theatre advocate Cecil Whitmire dies: Birmingham lost one of its greatest advocates last week. Cecil Whitmire, whose work made the restoration and reopening of the beautiful Alabama Theatre possible, died Sunday at 74 after a brief illness in his hometown of Corryton, Tennessee.
He was a constant presence at the Alabama, often greeting people on the sidewalk outside the box office, and will be remembered as gentle, affable man who was beloved by many of the people whose lives he touched.
Whitmire was born on Christmas Eve in 1935. He began playing the organ at age 12, and continued playing all his life, becoming the organist at the Alabama Theatre in the late 1970s. He was a big fan of the theatre’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ, one of only 17 similar organs, according to the website BhamWiki.com. His association with the Alabama continued into 1987, when Whitmire became the president of Birmingham Landmarks, a non-profit that owns, operates, maintains and restores the 83-year-old, 2,200-seat landmark theatre. He was still serving as president of Birmingham Landmarks at the time of his death.
Under Whitmire’s direction and due to his fundraising and efforts, the Alabama Theatre underwent a $1.5 million renovation to restore it to its former glory. In 1993, the non-profit acquired the 1200-seat Lyric Theatre, located across the street from the Alabama. Whitmire worked to raise funds for the renovation of the Lyric since that time.
It is hoped that the Lyric Theatre can serve as a venue for smaller events— such as high school graduations and recitals—that are currently hosted at the larger Alabama Theatre, freeing up that theatre for other events.
Whitmire’s wife, Linda Whitmire, died of cancer in 2001, according to the website BhamWiki.com. Whitmire published a coffee-table book entitled “The Alabama Theatre: Showplace of the South” in 2002, which contained a history and many sumptuous photos of the theatre, and dedicated it to his late spouse, who was also heavily involved in the theatres renovation and operation.
They did not have any children, but the Birmingham News reported that he is survived by his mother, Margarette, and his sister, Lynda Wright. They both live in Corryton.
For those Birmingham citizens wishing to pay their respects to Whitmire, a memorial service will be held at the Alabama Theatre on September 12 at 2pm.