John C. Whitehead, emeritus trustee, dies at 92

by AMELIA KAHANEY

John C. Whitehead, a member of the university’s Board of Trustees for nearly three decades, as well as a public servant and business leader, died in February at the age of 92. Closely identified with the partnership of Goldman Sachs, which he led for nearly a decade, Mr. Whitehead also held leadership positions in the Ronald W. Reagan administration and at the private equity firm AEA Investors. He assumed the chairmanship of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, charged with the massive challenge of rebuilding Ground Zero, just before his 80th birthday.

Mr. Whitehead majored in economics at Haverford College, and enlisted in the United States Navy in 1943. He captained a landing craft that ferried troops to Omaha Beach in the first wave of the Normandy invasion. After the war, Mr. Whitehead was the only person hired by Goldman Sachs in 1947, starting out as a member of the bond-buying team. By 1956, he persuaded management to set up a business department, helping Goldman launch its merger advisory service. In 1975, he became Goldman’s joint chairman, turning it into a global business that saw profits increase in each of the eight years he was at the firm’s helm, even as he devoted a third of his work time to nonprofit organizations he considered noble. Within months of his resignation from Goldman in 1984, Mr. Whitehead was asked by President Reagan to be deputy secretary of state. In that role, Mr. Whitehead worked with the communist nations of Eastern Europe as they grew increasingly independent of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Whitehead’s interest in nonprofit governance included service to the International Rescue Committee, the Asia Society, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the United Nations Association, the Boy Scouts of New York City, Haverford College, Harvard University, the Brookings Institution, and many more. Mr. Whitehead also served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He was a trustee of The Rockefeller University, where he was a significant agent for change, from 1989 until his death on February 7. As chairman of the Board’s development committee in the 1990s, he helped to elevate the role of private support for the university, strengthening a key source of funding that has allowed Rockefeller to increase its investment in transformative science.

In 1998, Mr. Whitehead was the recipient of the David Rockefeller Award for Extraordinary Service to The Rockefeller University, in recognition of his leadership, integrity, and generosity. In 2009, the University established the John C. Whitehead Presidential Fellowships to further recognize his contributions to Rockefeller’s scientific excellence and to honor him for his distinguished pro bono work for a wide range of other institutions.