By Laura McAlister
It’s difficult to think about the Alabama Theatre without remembering Cecil Whitmire.
Whether it was singing along to the tunes he played on the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ or greeting people at the door with his hearty smile, Whitmire was the face of the Alabama. He also dedicated a good portion of his life to bringing back some of the historic theater’s old glory.
Though Whitmire died Aug. 22 at the age of 74, the impact he made on the Alabama and downtown Birmingham won’t soon be forgotten.
To celebrate his life, the Alabama is hosting a memorial service for Whitmire at the theater Sept. 12 at 2 p.m., and the upcoming Sidewalk Moving Film Festival will be dedicated in his honor.
“We really want this to be a celebration of him and his life,” said Danny Evans, Whitmire’s longtime friend. “A large focus will be on his organ playing. We’ll have some previous performances of Cecil’s that were actually recorded and lots of pictures.
“People will get a chance to share some neat things about that rascal. I hope it’s a happy event and showcases his work for the last 25 years.”
Evans, a local attorney, helped Whitmire form the non-profit Birmingham Landmarks, Inc., that purchased and restored the Alabama nearly 25 years ago. Then, it was a decrepit, rundown building.
Whitmire took great care to retain the historic charm of the theater when restoring it, and today, in addition to showing classic films, it’s also a center for performing arts and entertainment.
The Alabama was like a child to Whitmire and his late wife, Evans said.
“They never had children, so this was like their child,” he said. “Cecil’s wife, Linda, was a wonderful, wonderful lady, and she was a great partner for him in every sense of the word.”
Evans and employees of the Alabama say Whitmire was straightforward with a good sense of humor and Southern charm. While they mourn his loss, they say it’s business as usual at the Alabama, because that’s the way their friend would have wanted it.
“We’re going to carry on,” said Jeannie Hanks, house manager of the Alabama. “He wouldn’t want it any other way. We’re going to celebrate his life Sept. 12. He was a really good boss and had a good sense of humor.
“I’ve been here 20 years, and we had a lot of our own private jokes. I wouldn’t have stayed so long if I didn’t enjoy working for him.”