Roberta Whiteman, a longtime editor for Variety who specialized in international coverage, died June 17 at a hospice facility near Vero Beach, Fla., where she lived. She was 62.
Known as Bobbie, the British native was a skilled copy editor and news editor who was an unfailingly sunny presence in Variety‘s newsroom for nearly 13 years. Whiteman demonstrated her courage, strength and resilience after being diagnosed in 2007 with a rare form of cancer that affected her spinal cord and brain.
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Despite undergoing difficult treatments, Whiteman was rarely absent from the newsroom for long. She was renowned for her skill at sorting through the high volume of news filed round the clock by Variety‘s unmatched roster of international correspondents.
Whiteman knew every correspondent and stringer in every territory, and she also shouldered the unenviable task of helping to ensure that their freelance payments were sent out on time. She was an encyclopedia of knowledge about the international film and TV companies and the media barons that dominated her pages, notably Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, Germany’s Leo Kirch, France’s Jean-Marie Messier, the U.K.’s Richard Branson and more.
“You couldn’t not like Bobbie. She loved her work and she loved people, and that’s not always true of newspaper editors,” said Tim Gray, Variety senior VP who served as the brand’s editor-in-chief for most of Whiteman’s tenure. “She was always upbeat and was a fierce champion of the international freelancers she worked with.”
Whiteman grew up in West London, the daughter of a commercial driver and homemaker. She attended the prestigious Godolphin and Latymer School, where her circle included future notables Hugh Grant and Nigella Lawson. She got her start in journalism working for local newspapers at a time of stiff competition in London. She also spent three years as a reporter for Doctor magazine, a publication known for its independence.
Whiteman eventually landed at Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun tabloid as a copy editor in 1986. She became a respected associate of editor Kelvin McKenzie and then-rising star Piers Morgan.
After a long run at the Sun, Whiteman decided to pursue her long-held interest to explore the United States and soon landed on the West Coast. At Variety, Whiteman started out as a copy editor and quickly advanced to foreign news editor.
True to her generous nature, when faced with a cancer diagnosis, Whiteman’s focus was on mitigating the impact on her co-workers.
“When she was dealing with her medical issues, she was always apologetic; she never worried about her own challenges with chemo or medication, but she worried that these things might cause additional work for her colleagues,” Gray recalled.
Whiteman wrote from the heart about her cancer experience in September 2008 when she covered the industry-backed Stand Up 2 Cancer fundraising telecast at the Kodak Theatre.
I’m one of the privileged few who were at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, home of the Academy Awards ceremony, on Friday evening to watch dozens of celebs vying for a prize more precious than an Oscar — a cure for cancer.
I felt doubly privileged to be there because, on April 10, 2007, my persistent back pain was finally traced to five tumors that had made themselves at home along my spine plus one in my brain, though, thankfully, not in a part that I actually use.
Outside of work, Whiteman was a horseback riding enthusiast, and she loved music. She sang barbershop quartet and a cappella with Sweet Adelines Intl.
After leaving Variety in mid-2013, Whiteman worked as a reporter and copy editor for Daily Mail Online, and she was a freelance copy editor for the Wrap and L.A. Weekly.
“She was always a calming bright spot,” said Sebastian O’Kelly, a former colleague and longtime friend. “She is about the only person in this trade about whom I never heard a bad word. She was always sunny and positive and truly beloved.”
Whiteman’s survivors include her husband of 10 years, John Shubert, a descendent of the famous theater family; as well as a stepson, a stepdaughter and a brother.
John Harlow contributed to this report.
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