New York Man Loses Dead Wife's Voice Message in Phone Service Upgrade

An 80-year-old widower who'd been saving his dead wife's outgoing message on voicemail so that he'd remember what she sounded like lost it when Verizon upgraded phone service in his area.

Charles Whiting told New York's Journal News that he stayed connected to the memory of his wife Catherine by calling his phone every day just to hear her say, "The Whitings aren't home."

But after the Verizon upgrade in the Westchester, N.Y., area, the greeting message was wiped from his voicemail system.

Whiting said he immediately phoned the company, waiting an entire hour to be helped and even getting disconnected at one stage. After calling back and holding another 90 minutes, he was told the outgoing message Catherine had recorded had been lost for good.

"That's the only recording of her voice that I have," Whiting told The Journal News. "Every time I listened to my messages, I heard her voice saying, 'This is Catherine Whiting.' It was like she was still with me when I heard that. Now they took her voice away."

Catherine Whiting died in 2005 from cancer and emphysema. The couple has two children, and traveled the world together after she was diagnosed with the terminal illnesses in 2004.

Verizon recently overhauled its voicemail service in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., and nearby Irvington, where Whiting lives.

Verizon spokesman John Bonomo told the News that notices were mailed out to customers announcing the upgrade and explaining how to handle resetting voicemail messages. Whiting's predicament, he said, is unusual.

"I can't say that kind of thing happens often — or ever," he told the newspaper. 'I would have to say it's really rare."

Whiting has 30 days from the Feb. 18 switchover to retrieve messages from the previous system, meaning he might be able to recover the greeting Catherine recorded, Bonomo told the News. Though the widower may not be able to transfer it to his new voicemail, he could conceivably record it onto a tape recorder, according to Bonomo.

Whiting is skeptical that he'll ever get the greeting back.

"It's just not right," he told the News. "It's not good customer service. ... A poor, old man loses the voice he's come to rely on. And I relied on it. It's just sad. It's really sad."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.