Richard A. “Nibs” Whitehead, 87, of Kalispell ended his epic journey Sunday, July 22 at one of his favorite spots on Flathead Lake. He earned a good death on his own terms surrounded by his large loving family and hordes of friends and admirers after hosting a fantastic family reunion with people from all over the world. Nibs began his adventure on February 15, 1931 in Kalispell born to Alice (Allen) and Dick Whitehead. Nibs lived a rough and tumble life growing up in his paradise of Northwest Montana. Although his childhood was idyllic it was consumed quickly. He managed to live with real Indians in teepees, hunted and fished Montana’s great outdoors and embraced an exciting lifestyle at a time and place in the aftermath of the Great Depression that now only exists in memories. He had to mature quickly; he had to have grit and the ability to make do with what he was dealt. Nibs quit school in the seventh grade and began a storied work career developing an unmatched work ethic over the next 75 years. Nibs had countless jobs including selling newspapers, setting pins at a bowling alley, cutting firewood, working on farms and ranches, cutting leather at a boot factory and all aspects of logging including a sawyer, mill worker and log truck and low boy driver. Nibs could skillfully haul massive pieces of equipment to places that would intimidate a mountain goat. He seemed to know every trail, dirt road and highway in the Northwest United States. He finally retired from trucking at Double Diamond Contracting and T M Contracting at 85 years young with at least two million miles under his belt, where he worked for, tutored and entertained his grandsons Scott and Travis Moore and their crews. His shift was never done, when he wasn’t driving you could find Nibs working for his daughter Sherri at Imperial Dry Cleaners in Kalispell where he made countless friends and became a grandpa for many more. Dedicated, determined and talented; a real “workaholic” is how his employers would describe him, always showing up early to work and not quitting until the job was done. At times when required he would live in the mountains in primitive shacks at logging sites even during winter with their first daughter Debbie as an infant. It would be a huge understatement to say that Nibs was a hard worker his entire life. He was an inspiration to his co-workers at every job; you could always count on Nibs, he always gave full measure.
He married the love of his life Cecil Cameron on May 9, 1953, thanks to Cecil he became somewhat domesticated but never lost his zest for life and quest for adventure. From this union of over 65 years the Whiteheads produced 5 bright and ambitious children, Debbie, Kenny, Mark, Byron and Sherri. Kenny died as an infant. The remaining children blessed Nibs and Cecil in many ways including choosing to live close to them in Kalispell nearly all their lives rewarding these lucky parents with endless love and family companionship and benefiting their own children with the wealth of wisdom and love that only a grandparent can offer. Nib’s family was his reason for living, he was an outstanding father and family patriarch, loved and revered by all. The Whiteheads were very generous, providing so much for so many including board and room for anyone who needed a rock to land on or a hand up. Dozens of people adopted them as grandparents and they influenced and nurtured all who came into their lives. In a nutshell it has been said, that if “Salt of the Earth” came in a box, that Nibs and Cecil’s picture would be on the label.
No one could tell a story like Nibs, his true life tales were legendary around the campfire at Byron or Mark’s shop. He did not need to embellish or exaggerate; his stories were true life adventures delivered in a bold and animated way that only Nibs could, he was at his best with an audience of eager admirers around him. Nibs faced serious injury and illness many times in his life. Up until his demise his undaunted courage in facing whatever cards were dealt him demonstrated his unwavering character and deep set courage. He was also a humble man who never really knew how valuable his influence was to the people around him. Few of us ever got a chance to repay Nibs back for the benefits of wisdom he shared. To quote an overused cliché, “they don’t make them like him anymore”, he was really one in a million and no one will ever replace him.
Nibs was proceeded in death by this lovely wife of 65 years, Cecil, his son Kenny, his parents Dick and Alice Whitehead, step mother Bertha Whitehead, step father Albert Hoppe, brothers: Bill
Whitehead, David Whitehead and a sister Edith Marvin. He is survived by sisters: Modie Gedstad, Bonita Kuntz, and Alice Hoppe and brothers: Norman Hoppe and Ray Hoppe, children: Debbie Moore and former husband Jerome Moore, Mark Whitehead and wife Tammi, Byron Whitehead and partner Peggy Nau, and Sherri and husband Michael A. Hayes. Nibs is also blessed with 21 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren and countless others who adopted him as their grandfather.
Please join his family at a celebration of his extraordinary life, Saturday July 28th at 2:00 p.m. at the Expo Building at the Flathead County Fairgrounds proceeded by a truck parade through downtown. If you wish to participate in the Procession please meet at the Vo Ag building off Willow Glen Drive at 12:30. You don’t want to miss this opportunity to send off this legendary man.