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Pastor faced heart problems with courage

| Monday, April 25, 2005

The Rev. Dr. Thomas D. Whitehead coped with numerous heart problems in recent years by "treating every day as a gift," his wife said.

Rev. Whitehead, of Oakmont, and pastor of the Oakmont United Methodist Church, rebounded from a heart attack in 1999 to earn his doctorate degree in theology from Duquesne University in 2001, then came back from a stroke to the point where he was able to drive again, and return to the pulpit in September.

Although another major coronary forced the implantation of an artificial heart seven months ago while he awaited a transplant, Rev. Whitehead died Friday, April 22, 2005, at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Oakland. He was 57.

"He handled it extremely well and came to terms with his limitations," said his wife, Tina, while at a special visitation held Sunday at Calvary United Methodist Church in Uniontown, where he had served as minister from 1993 until July 2004.

When he left Uniontown, the congregation presented him with a pass to the Oakmont Country Club.

"He was an avid, fanatic golfer, so going to Oakmont was just a dream come true," she said.

From 1984 to 1991 he served as the minister at Highland Avenue United Methodist Church in Pitcairn, then moved to Monroeville United Methodist Church from 1991 to 1993.

He was born March 10, 1948, in Sioux City, Iowa, the son of Duane and Mildred Parker Whitehead, and grew up in Omaha, Neb.

After graduating from high school, Rev. Whitehead served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1966 to 1970, including a year's tour of duty in Vietnam.

He met his wife when the two were attending the Lutheran Bible Institute in Seattle. They were married Dec. 21, 1972, in Edmonton, Alberta, then moved back to Seattle.

"One of the things I'm going to miss most is his laugh," said his daughter, Kerri, 26, of Oakmont, who was born in Pittsburgh. "He would start laughing, and it was just infectious. You'd just start laughing with him."

Although the golf pass went unused, the family did travel back and forth to Uniontown to follow the high school basketball team and visit with their other daughter, Christina, who still lives there.

"He was very into it -- always yelling at the referees," Kerri said, adding that her father was also a big fan of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football team.

His heart problems curtailed his ability to conduct Sunday services at Oakmont United Methodist, but he devoted himself to teaching and administration, although he did help with the services on Christmas Eve 2004.

In addition to his wife, Tina, and his daughters, Kerri and Christina Whitehead, he is survived by his sister, Sandra, of Red Oak, Iowa; and brother, Gus, of Omaha.

Friends may call from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today at the English-Bertucci Funeral Home Inc., 378 Maryland Ave., Oakmont, and from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Monroeville United Methodist Church, where services will be at 11 a.m.

The family asks that donations be made to the University of Pittsburgh Artificial Heart Program, 200 Lothrop St., Suite C700, Pittsburgh, PA, 15213.

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