Thousands viewed the body of Boxer “Sweetpea” Whitaker at the Norfolk Scope before his public funeral service on Saturday, July 20. The Order of Ceremony included musical selections; reflections from Whitaker’s family and friends; tributes from longtime friends and politicians; and the Eulogy delivered by Bishop James E. Jones, Jr., Greater Grace Church. “Sweetpea” died on Sunday July 14 at the age of 55, after being struck by a pick up truck as he was crossing a busy street.
Commentary By Dr. Grady James
Special to the Guide
They came by the thousands Saturday morning to Norfolk Scope. Many as early as eight o’clock lining up at the doors upstairs and down stairs waiting for the doors to open at nine for public viewing. Black and white, young and old, they came. Some had wheel chairs. Some with canes. They all came to pay tribute and say goodbye to their hometown hero Pernell “Sweetpea” Whitaker,
Tributes and a funeral followed approximately an hour and a half of viewing and goodbyes. Tributes were read from Governor Ralph Northam, Senator Time Kaine, Senator Mark Warner, and Congressman Robert “Bobby” Scott.
Other tributes came from some in attendance. NBA basketball official Tony Brothers, a Booker T. Washington High alumnus who recounted their mutual praise and admiration for each other’s performance in their respective sports.
NFL “Hall of Famer,” Bruce Smith, another Washington alumnus and close friend, gave an emotional tribute to Whitaker, describing him as confident, charismatic, “piercingly blunt and always the funniest guy in the room.” Noting that he had sacrificed fortune and fame to fight in his hometown.” He added that “no one, and I mean no one, has done more for sports and entertainment in the history of this region than Pernell “Sweetpea” Whitaker.” Indeed he did, fighting at least seven times in Scope and other times in other areas in Hampton Roads.
Whitaker had 45 fights, losing four. A 1993 fight against Julio Cesar Chavez in San Antonio resulted in a controversial draw. A fight that everyone thought he’d won except the judges. Even a Sports illustrated cover thought he was robbed.
Acclaimed at one time pound for pound the best fighter in the world, he won titles in four weight classes from lightweight to super welterweight. A master defensive fighter, he was rarely “felled” by an opponent.
Sadly on July 14th, while crossing a major street in Virginia Beach, Whitaker was “felled” and killed by a pickup truck at the intersection of Northampton Boulevard and Baker Road. He was 55-years-old.
“Sweetpea” or “Sweet Pea” was the man from Young Terrace housing project who took up boxing and became a legend, bringing honor and international Fame to his hometown. He was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible, and he was honored as “The Distinguished Virginian” by the Virginia Association of Broadcasters. He leaves memories and a legacy that will be hard to duplicate.