Published: Sunday, November 28, 2010, 7:02 PM ??? Updated: Sunday, November 28, 2010, 7:04 PM
It wasn't unusual to find Marvin Whiting digging through the trash at downtown Birmingham businesses looking for scraps of the city's history before they were lost forever, friends said today.
Mr. Whiting, who served as director of Birmingham Public Library's archives department from 1976 to 1996 and was curator of the Birmingham-Jefferson History Museum, died Friday. He was 76.
"He was kind of an evangelist of archives and history," said Robert G. Corley, director of the Global and Community Leadership Honors Program at UAB, who once worked for Mr. Whiting.
In fact, Mr. Whiting began his professional career as a Methodist minister. He had a master of divinity from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, a doctorate degree in American religious history from Columbia University, a master's degree in history from Emory University, and a degree in library science and archives from Emory University.
After serving as chaplain and assistant professor at Jacksonville University in Florida the Georgia native came to Birmingham to direct the library's archives department.
Marjorie White, director of the Birmingham Historical Society, credited Mr. Whiting with developing the first major program for collecting and preserving the city's records and opening them to the public. "For the life of a city, that is very important to have access to records to tell your story," she said.
Mr. Whiting sought out records anywhere they could be found, developing contacts at long-time area companies to get them to turn over their records before they were lost. He even was known to go through the trash of some older businesses that were moving out, friends said.
Among the records added to the city's archives during Mr. Whiting's tenure were records from the Elyton Land Co., which founded the city of Birmingham, and Jemison & Co., another development company that developed Mountain Brook, Fairfield, and a number of commercial buildings and hotels in Birmingham, including the Tutwiler Hotel in downtown Birmingham.
"He (Mr. Whiting) was driven to collect things," White said.
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