In Memoriam: Economics Professor Emeritus John K. Whitaker

Snow on Grounds
February 01, 2016

John K. Whitaker, Georgia Bankard Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Virginia, died Jan. 25 in Northern Virginia, just before his 83rd birthday.

Whitaker taught economics at UVA for more than three decades and chaired the Department of Economics from 1979 to 1982. In 1992, he was appointed the Georgia Bankard Professor of Economics, becoming a professor emeritus when he retired in 2003.

“John was the consummate economic theorist,” economics professor David Mills said. “His breadth of knowledge was exceptional. For more than 30 years, he was an active participant in every aspect of the department’s academic life. 

“I am the grateful beneficiary of many illuminating discussions with him about my own work, and in this I am not alone. A former colleague once observed that John’s only known vices were bicycling and collecting used books.”

Whitaker was a world-renowned expert on Alfred Marshall, an influential 19th-century economist who popularized key concepts like marginal utility and the functions of supply and demand. Whitaker discovered some of Marshall’s unpublished early writings among a collection in the Cambridge University Library and took on the task of editing them, eventually publishing a two-volume collection, “The Early Economic Writings of Alfred Marshall, 1867-1890.” He later served as an editor on a three-volume collection of Marshall’s correspondence, as well as a collection of Marshall’s essays.

Whitaker received numerous awards for his work and also earned appointments to key organizations in his field, serving as the president of the History of Economics Society and on the editorial boards for scholarly journals including the Journal of Economic Literature and the Journal of the History of Economic Thought.

Outside of his academic pursuits, Whitaker was an avid cyclist and a founding member of the Charlottesville Bicycle Club. His lifelong love of the sport sprang from his childhood in Lancashire, England, where he loved to cycle through the countryside and found success as a competitive cyclist. He placed seventh in Britain’s national hill-climbing championship in 1952, and 14th in the Manx International race on the Isle of Man.

Whitaker is survived by his two sisters, Molly Nicolson and Marjorie King; his three children, Ann Garcia, Jane Datta and David Whitaker; and seven grandchildren, one of whom is a current UVA student. His wife, Sally, preceded him in death.

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Caroline Newman

University News Associate Office of University Communications