Genevieve Martinez Whalen, a community service advocate and a founder of Las Doñas de los Descendientes del Presidio de Tucsón, died Nov. 22. She was 101.
Whalen died peacefully of natural causes in an assisted living home where she had lived for years, said close friend Kristin Thompson. “She looked good and had her nails done the day before,” said Thompson, adding that Whalen enjoyed looking nice and dressing up for community events.
Another close friend, Pat Benton, had visited Whalen earlier in the week and the two reminisced about life. Whalen, who told Benton that she was tired and missed her family, said she would sing in the heavens with the late Tucson musician Bobby Benton, who was Pat’s husband, and with a friend, Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero, a singer-songwriter for decades who was recognized as the “Father of Chicano Music.”
Pat Benton, who shared her conversation and thoughts through an email, said she wished that Whalen would “enjoy the afterlife with her friends and family and keep on partying.”
“She loved life,” said Annie Lopez, also a member of Los Descendientes, or the Descendants of Tucson’s Presidio. Whalen attended meetings and the annual fundraising gala of the organization where community leaders are honored and Tucson’s birthday is celebrated.
The doña title, which was bestowed on Whalen, is an honor given out of respect to women leaders who have contributed to the Tucson community and upheld the history and cultural traditions of the Old Pueblo.
In a 2018 interview with the Arizona Daily Star, Whalen said she was born Oct. 7, 1918, at home on South Convent Avenue, near West Simpson Street in Barrio Viejo, which is directly south of where the downtown Tucson Convention Center is now.
Her home was connected to the family’s business — American Bakery — which also included a grocery store owned by her parents, Miguel and Enriqueta Martinez. The couple reared 10 children, all of whom worked in the business.
Whalen said she was born into a musical family. She played the piano and her older sisters played the guitar and violin. Her sister, Enriqueta, married Georges DeMeester, a musician, composer, conductor and founder of Tucson Pops Orchestra. The DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center at Reid Park is named in his honor. Whalen remembered having grand times when the neighborhood musicians would sit out at night on the porch and join her and her sisters in playing instruments and singing.
After attending Tucson High School, she worked as a dental assistant and was a Spanish interpreter for doctors. She married Frank Whalen and the couple had two children.
Whalen continued her community service for decades, raising money for various causes, including St. Elizabeth of Hungary Clinic. During her fundraising work, she befriended television star Michael Landon, whom she met through Robert Shelton, founder of Old Tucson Studios.
She also was a member and founder of social clubs, including Club Recuerdo, in support of Guerrero and social causes, including providing financial assistance to teachers to purchase supplies for their classrooms.
When Whalen reflected on her life a year ago, she said: “Always try to be happy and make others happy.”
A celebration of Whalen’s life will be held at Carrillo’s Tucson Mortuary, 204 S. Stone Ave., on Tuesday, Dec. 3, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. A scripture service will be held at 10:30 a.m.