Peter Witherly spent more than 30 years in Prince Rupert teaching thousands of students and directing dozens of ensembles, bands and choirs. Now the building that bears his name is paid for in full.
On June 8, the Prince Rupert and Region Music Society presented a $550,000 check to School District 52 at the Peter Witherly Memorial concert. That amount represented the remainder of the music’s society’s financial commitment for the Peter Witherly Community Music Studio, which opened in 2014.
“It’s a moment that has been years in the making,” said Zoe Zentner, who presented the cheque on behalf of the society. “Peter would have paid it off himself if he could have and we didn’t want him doing that so it’s really good.”
The cheque presentation was simply a highlight in a night filled with memorable and moving moments. Approximately 600 people packed into the Lester Centre’s auditorium to pay tribute to Witherly — who passed away on Feb. 23 — in music, song and spirit.
“If he was the priest of Prince Rupert music, the Lester Centre was his temple,” said Michael Gurney, the concert’s MC .
According to those who knew him best, Witherly was not the type of man who would have sought or enjoyed the praise that was heaped upon him during the concert. However, the music, laughter and cheers that echoed from centre’s auditorium were testament to the impact he had on so many people in Prince Rupert and the region.
“I don’t think it’s ever been a mystery of the contribution that my dad made and there’s always been appreciation, but he was not the sort of person that sought the public glory like this,” said his son, Michael Witherly who offered a tribute to his father during the concert. “So in a sense there was this pent up need to do something like this because it never could have happened in his lifetime.”
The concerts performers included the Prince Rupert Community Band, the Prince Rupert Swing Band, the Rotary Choir, the Mermaids, the Undecideds, the Oompah Band, Skeena Jazz and the Dance Academy of Prince Rupert. All of these groups were either started or influenced by Witherly in some way.
The final item of the concert was “The Prayer”, which the entire audience sang heartily together along with the performers on stage.
“It was really a celebration,” said Kristy Tillman, who has taken over conducting duties for the community band. “It was almost a party to say ‘look what you’ve done for us’ and we’ll continue doing what he wanted us to do.”