Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 19, 2009
Basilica organist was 'perfect gentleman'
John Wetherill was an Anglican who played at the basilica for 38 years
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - St. Joseph's Basilica is mourning the loss of beloved musician, friend and collaborator. John Wetherill, a pipe organist at the basilica for 38 years, died Oct. 12 after a long decline in his health. He was 77.
"He was the perfect English gentleman," said Sister Annata Brockman, who worked at the basilica for 23 years. "He was very reliable, played the pipe organ very well and was very generous with his talents."
Monica Rist, a basilica organist for 23 years, shared the job with Wetherill.
"He was just like a rock," Rist said Oct. 13. "You could just depend on him 100 per cent. That was his best quality. You could always count on him to do what he said he was going to do. He always took his job very seriously and he was well prepared and well organized."
The basilica has at least five Masses every weekend.
"We shared the job," Rist said. "There were some Masses that he would play for and some Masses I would play for. And then I would conduct the 10:30 a.m. choir and he would play when I conducted the choir. And we would share the weddings."
Born Sept. 18, 1932 in Birmingham, England, Wetherill moved to Edmonton at age 24. The holder of a master's degree in physics, he worked in radiation health protection for the Alberta government until his retirement at the age of 55. He left behind three adult children and four grandchildren.
Passionate about music, John was also an accompanist for the Richard Eaton Singers. He was an avid photographer and cyclist who loved to travel.
"He was a very healthy man. As recently as five years ago he would ride his bike to the church and he was already 72," recalled Rist. "He never smoked. He had a very healthy lifestyle. He never drank."
Nevertheless, Wetherill developed a few health problems. He had Parkinson's disease and pulmonary fibrosis. And then he got pneumonia and died at the Edmonton General Hospital at age 77.
"I'll will remember him as a very good friend and a very good co-worker," Rist said. "He played the last time at Easter time in 2008 but his health was already getting poor.
"It was hard for him to do his job so he decided it was time for him to quit. He kept going as long as he could because he just loved to play."
Wetherill didn't limit his work to the basilica but played for many other archdiocesan functions, according to Brockman. An Anglican, he also sang in the choir of All Saints Anglican Cathedral.
He regularly attended workshops on liturgy and liturgical music.
"Also John used to interview wedding couples - about 120 every year - and helped them to choose the music for their wedding," recalled Brockman.
"He would play all the pieces that might be appropriate for the procession so the couples could choose. He did that for years."
Added Brockman, "John's always been faithful. If he were supposed to play 10 minutes before Mass to set the atmosphere, he would be there. He was never late; you could count on him and Monica (Rist)."
BEHIND THE SCENES
Margie McCaffery, a leader of song at the basilica and a good friend of Wetherill for almost 30 years, described Wetherill as a good friend who inspired and touched the lives of those around him.
"He did so much work behind the scenes that people didn't know about," McCaffery said. "People didn't realize how much he did until he stopped doing it."
Among other things, Wetherill tuned the pipe organ and typed all the music and distributed it to leaders of song.
A memorial service for Wetherill was to be held Oct. 16 at St. Joseph's Basilica followed by a reception.
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