Much loved and respected by his patients, many of whom became his friends, it was a sad shock to learn of the death of Joseph Whitby on December 13th at the age of 59.
As a general practitioner he was outstanding. I write as a layman but also as a patient of Joe's for many years. He seemed to have a specialist's knowledge of many things outside the ordinary run of human ailments and I have never known him wrong. He had little or no bedside manner, rather the reverse, and if there was a comic side to one's troubles his sense of humour was quick to seize on it. He would tell you exactly what could or could not be done and one always knew just how matters stood. But underlying the some times rather dry manner and matter of fact voice there was a deep and compassionate understanding of the troubles of his fellow men and, more than that, a ready and effective way of helping them.
In recent years his work was all-absorbing and I do not think he touched a card for months on end, but in earlier times he was in the front rank of bridge players in this country and had a highly individual style. His manner at the table was deceptively quiet and his psychological approach to the game sometimes took a surprisingly practical turn.
Holding as South:
A K Q J 7 6
K 7 6 3
Whitby found himself on lead against a contract of Five Hearts by East. He led the Ace of diamonds arid saw this dummy:-
Q 10 9·6 3
J 7 2
A Q 8 7
North, who had supported spades, gave a low diamond so the next card that came out of Joe's hand was the 7 of spades. Partner won with the 9 and gave South his diamond ruff.
Joe explained afterwards with a perfectly straight face that he underled his hundred honours in spades because although the 10 was on the table it was further away from the declarer than the 5, and he thought there was a sporting chance that East would not reach for the higher card.
Dr. Whitby had a remarkably even voice, the perfect poker voice, and each bid or pass was made in exactly the same tone and with what sounded like a slightly surprised upward lift on the last word. No Bid. This was deceptive as you literally never could tell what sort of hand he had. In a team match of long ago Whitby, sitting South held:-
+ J 8 5
cv 9 4
0 10 9 4 2
• 10 6 52
East-West were vulnerable and East the dealer. After two passes West opened the bidding with Three Hearts. North doubled, which in those days meant "Bid something", so Whitby bid Three Spades. North bid Four Hearts and South Four Spades. Undeterred, North bid Four No·Trumps, South Five Spades, North Five No Trumps, and South, still in good voice, Six Spades. As Joe put it afterwards, all his bids were intended as "sign-offs". Anyway, nobody doubled though the contract went several down. Did East-West think that their opponents could make Six No Trumps or did that level voice and quiet manner have something to do with the result?
When Whitby came to see me or my family I would sometimes ask him if he bad been playing any bridge lately. The answer was usually "No", but he once told me with a chuckle that he didn't have to worry about keeping up his reputation as he was the unchallengeable National Individual Bridge Champion of the United Kingdom. An awed enquiry as to how this was so brought forth the explanation that he had won this tournament the last time it was held and that the event had since been dropped from the Bridge Calendar!
In an age where even medicine sometimes seems to be not altogether immune from the dangers of mass production and mechanisation, Joe Whitby stood for the highest principles of his profession. His knowledge was vast and his authority great. He will be sadly missed.
Frederic Lewis, in British Bridge World, March 1961
There was another celebrated instance of the inscrutability for which Joe Whitby was famous. Playing a hand in Seven Spades, he gravely ducked the opening lead, though holding the Ace of the suit in dummy. It was a perfect play to rectify the count and the only way to go not more than one down.
Terence Reese, in British Bridge World, March 1961
Camrose Trophy selections: 1937 1938 1939 and 1946
Tollemache Cup winner: 1936