Florala principal Max Whittaker passes away at age 58

Published 2:45 pm Monday, February 20, 2023

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Florala High School principal Max Whittaker passed away unexpectedly from medical complications Sunday, Feb. 19. He was 58.

Florala High School principal Max Whittaker passed away unexpectedly from medical complications Sunday, Feb. 19, at the age of 58. (PHOTO PROVIDED)

A native of New Brockton, Whittaker was introduced as the principal at FHS in February 2016. He was previously the principal of Slocomb High School and Geneva County High School. Assistant principal Carie Turman will serve as the school’s interim principal until a replacement is named.

“We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Principal Whittaker. Mr. Whittaker was an excellent administrator who loved Florala High School,” Covington County Schools Superintendent Shannon Driver said. “He cared about his students and wanted to provide the best opportunities for them. His staff had great respect for him. He was tough and demanding of his students, but he also believed in having fun and enjoyment along the way. He definitely had a positive influence at Florala High School and in the community. He will be greatly missed.”

Whittaker attended Enterprise State Junior College and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Social Science Education from Troy University. He earned his certification in Educational Leadership and Administration from Alabama State University. He previously taught and coached football at Pike County Schools and Enterprise City Schools from 1990 until 2001. He then moved to Geneva County Schools in 2002, where he remained for 14 years prior to taking over at Florala High School.

“Mr. Whittaker was the best. God put me at Florala to learn from him. He was so loved and kind yet tough and hard when needed. He balanced the school so well. He got the momentum going in the right direction, and we are going to keep it going. We all want to make him proud. He will be greatly missed by his Florala family,” Turman said.

Several faculty and staff members spoke about his character and contributions to the school. One involved working with the Agriscience class on a beautification project at the front entrance where an irrigation system and Bermuda sod were installed in 2021.

Secretary Jamie Jackson said she was grateful to work under his guidance.

“To know him was to love him. Mr. Whittaker was the best boss. He supported his faculty and staff, loved his students, and loved Florala High School. He loved his family and was so proud of each one of them. We love him and will miss him dearly,” Jackson said.

Math teacher Brianna Leitschuck said Whittaker was a great fit for FHS.

“I’ve lived in Florala my entire life and graduated from there,” Leitschuck said. “He worked so hard to make FHS a better place. He took me under his wing and taught me to be the teacher I am today. Most of us didn’t just lose a boss but a family member, dear friend, and mentor.”

Nurse Cheybrel Coleman felt he led by example and referred to him as a vital part of the Wildcat family.

“Mr. Whittaker was not just an amazing boss but was family. He worked hard and gave his all, so he expected the same from us. Ultimately, he just wanted the best for the students of Florala High School. You would find him interacting with all the kids. He was so hands-on and truly served with his whole heart. He made a great impact on our school and will be missed dearly,” Coleman said.

English teacher Hope Hunt referred to Whittaker as the school’s “fearless leader.”

“Mr. Whittaker loved each of us, his students, and this community. He fought for us daily and treated us all like family. He was the best boss and a wonderful friend and mentor. Please keep everyone involved in your prayers, especially his family,” Hunt said.

Head baseball coach Tyler Zessin said his team would honor him throughout the upcoming season.

“Mr. Whittaker loved Florala High School, our students, and the community. I am forever grateful for coaching under his support and guidance, and he always had my back,” Zessin said. “At baseball games, he always made sure we had the American flag raised before each home game as he took his usual spot in right field. His chair will remain in right field for the 2023 season, and we will miss him dearly.”

Director of bands Patrick Whitehurst credited Whittaker with helping him build the school’s band program.

“Mr. Whittaker was by far the best principal and boss I’ve had the opportunity to work for. He had a heart of gold and cared for every student and faculty member on campus. He was the biggest supporter of my band students and allowed us opportunities to showcase our wonderful student musicians. It’s because of him I am where I’m at.”

Whittaker supported students and staff by often attending competitions and sporting events. Alivia Laird, a 2019 FHS alumna, praised him for his leadership.

“Mr. Whittaker was an amazing principal,” Laird said. “He always put every single student’s needs before his own. He would go to every game no matter how far away they were. He really cared about Florala High School and the students. He will certainly be missed by so many. He was always there for students, even years after graduation. He changed Florala for the better, and I’m forever team Wildcat.”

For 2021 alumnus Rashaad Coleman, Whittaker was much more than a principal.

“He often checked on me since I graduated. We’ve had talks nobody even knows about, and he’s always had my back in school and after. I’ll truly miss hearing him getting on to the guys at the basketball games. One thing you can’t question is the love he had for the community and school. He will be truly missed,” Coleman said.

Junior Christian Greasham appreciated his kind nature toward students. “He was the best principal. He cared about us and treated us like his family,” Greasham said.

Whittaker was born Feb. 21, 1964, to Travis and Betty Whittaker and was a 1982 graduate of New Brockton High School. He was married to his wife of 33 years, Tracy, and they have three children: Sawyer (Bethany), Grady, Scout, and one grandchild, Lucy.

Funeral services will be held Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 2 p.m., from Sorrells Funeral Home Chapel in Enterprise. Visitation will begin at the funeral home at 12:30 p.m. and continue until service time. Interment will be in the New Brockton City Cemetery.