Whittley Marine Group mourns the passing of Company Founder

Saturday 21 April 2012

AUSTRALIA'S marine industry lost one of its pioneers with the passing of Jim Whittley on Friday 12 March, after a short illness.

Jim and his brother Ossie built their first boat in 1953, when Jim was just 21, and since then Whittley has become the benchmark for quality trailerable family boats.

The brothers set up shop in the outer Melbourne suburb of Bulleen and their hand-built timber boats came in all sizes, some of them even so large that the factory had to be partly dismantled to get them out. After a few years Ossie moved on to build yachts.

In 1957 Jim married Aileen, beginning a partnership which would become as highly regarded for its old-fashioned family values as for quality of the Whittley boats.

Jim and Aileen were among Australia’s earliest pioneers of fibreglass boats in the 1960s, and they achieved a quality of finish with the then-new material that has been universally admired ever since.

In the 1980s they sold the business to their two sons, Neville and Steven, who have built on the quality foundations and expanded the company to become an internationally respected manufacturer with operations in the USA and Asia as well as Australia.

Jim Whittley was as much a family man as a boat builder, and the family atmosphere pervaded his business, with many long-serving Whittley workers feeling more like family than staff.

He and Aileen raised three children, Neville and Steven and their sister Angela, and Jim was a much-loved Pa to Alan, Genevieve, Jake, Lauren and Janis.

His devotion to quality lives on in the business run by Neville and Steven, where Neville’s son Alan represents the third generation of quality boat builders.

Neville Whittley paid tribute to his father, as much for his quiet modesty as for his widely acclaimed achievements.

“Dad was never one to sing his own praises, but lots of other people did,” he said.

“There once was a time when we compared our boats to other people’s, but over the years we realised that everyone else seemed to compare themselves to us – Dad set that quality benchmark for our family to continue into the future.

“He led the way with hull design and creative ideas to make boating for Austalian families more enjoyable, and he laid the foundations which make every Whittley boat so special, both then and now.

“Since Dad’s passing on Friday morning we have been overwhelmed by the warmth and kindness of those who have known him over the years.

“Former employees and business associates have mourned him like a brother, and in doing so have reminded us that, whatever he was as an admired boat builder, he was even more as a husband, father, grandfather and friend.”

Steve Whittley remembers his father as a boat designer and builder of rare ability who created some of Australia’s best-loved boats.

“Dad only ever set out to create and build the best boats possible with the best materials available, and in doing so he created the trailerable cruising recreational boat market in Australia,” he said.

“His most popular models were the Cherokee, Puma, Impala, Monterey, Voyager and Cruisemaster, all recognised for their classic style, performance and quality.

“He was always known for the care and attention to detail he built into every boat, and he had a special talent for making the very best use of the space in every boat – something which has become part of the Whittley heritage.”

Neville’s son and Jim’s eldest grandson, Alan, who is now working in the family business, said his grandfather was a quality master craftsmen and a loving family man who always wanted to make his customers, friends, suppliers and family happy and make them smile.

“Steve’s son Jake and I have learnt an awful lot from Pa while we were growing up. We will remember Pa as a true gentleman, down to earth, honest and a hard working man who was the builder of other people’s dreams,” he said.

“Pa was the ultimate mentor and role model for all of us grandchildren. He used to frequently talk about life and business with us, and his input and thoughts helped us all grow.

“He spoke very highly about the boating industry and the people in it, even his competitors, with not a bad word to say about anyone. He left a legacy of integrity, honesty and kindness, and we have promised him we will continue that legacy for years to come.”

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