Home > news > Passing of Rhea Whitehead

Rhea Whitehead died peacefully in her home on June 14, 2011, with her family close by.  A celebration of Rhea’s life will be held at Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church, 427 Bloor St. W., Toronto, on Tuesday, July 5 at 11:00 am.

In 2010 Rhea and her husband Ray were the recipients of the CCFGM Katharine Hockin Award. Their response to the award was featured in the 2010 CCFGM Forum Focus. Rhea is well known and loved by the Christian and other communities in Canada and globally. Her family and friends, and in particular her husband Ray who serves as a member of the CCFGM board, are in our thoughts and prayers.


Died peacefully at home on June 14, 2011, surrounded by loving family. She was born January 22, 1936 in St. Louis, Missouri, received a BA from Elmhurst College, Illinois, an MA in adult education from OISE, University of Toronto, and an honorary doctorate from Victoria University, University of Toronto. In 1957 she married Raymond Whitehead. They studied Cantonese at Yale University before moving to Hong Kong in January, 1961. They moved to Toronto in 1976, where Rhea worked for the Joint Centre on Modern East Asia (U of T and York University). She subsequently worked as the Asia Area Administrator first for the Anglican Church of Canada and then for the United Church of Canada. In 1992 she took responsibility for all overseas work of the United Church of Canada. After retirement she taught at Silliman University (Philippines) and Nanjing Union Theological Seminary in China.

Rhea was widely respected and recognized for her international justice and peace work. She played a key role in initial discussions between North and South Korean churches when beginning their first direct communications since the Korean War. She was much praised for her courage in visiting political prisoners in times of martial law both in the Philippines and Korea, including Kim Dae-jung who later invited her to his presidential inauguration. She maintained a lifelong commitment to building relationships with China. In advancing justice and rights for women globally, she was a mentor and role-model to many.

Rhea’s life was enriched by her love of music, gardening, and nature. In her mid-sixties she took up scuba diving. She actively maintained a close network of friends and colleagues around the world.

Family was central to Rhea’s life. She was the elder sister of Anne Helm and Paul Menzel, loving wife of Ray, mother of Cynthia, Beth and Sara, and grandmother of Clare, Eli and Ben. The family is grateful for the wonderful support of staff at Princess Margaret Hospital, the Temmy Latner Center for Palliative Care, and the loving care of the Trinity-St. Paul’s community and other close friends.

The family will receive relatives and friends at Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church, 427 Bloor St. W., on Tuesday, June 21, 4:00-6:30 pm. A celebration of Rhea’s life will be held at Trinity-St. Paul’s on Tuesday, July 5 at 11:00 am. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Trinity- St. Paul’s United Church, Princess Margaret Hospital, or Marie Stopes International.