A Statement on the Death of Former Trustee John C. Whitehead by Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York

On behalf of the Carnegie Corporation of New York Board of Trustees, Board Chairman Governor Thomas Kean, and myself, I wish to express our sadness at the death of former Corporation trustee John C. Whitehead, who passed away on February 7, 2015.

Mr. Whitehead was a great American and a patriot, one who served our nation with distinction, both in the military and as a diplomat. He was a great philanthropist who was known for his wonderful sense of humor and joie de vivre.  Above all, he was a man of integrity—as a citizen, corporate leader, board member, benefactor, and counselor. 

As a young man, Mr. Whitehead chose to enlist in the U.S. Navy during World War II, taking part in the invasions of Normandy, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. After the war, he joined Goldman Sachs and, over 37 years, including eight as co-chair, helped it to become a dynamic, international investment firm.  

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan appointed Mr. Whitehead deputy secretary of state. His five years in the State Department represented a critical period in world affairs—the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the impending dissolution of the Soviet Union—and his work focused on relations with Eastern Europe as the United States negotiated sensitive arms-control agreements.

Throughout his business career, Mr. Whitehead dedicated a significant portion of his time to nonprofit organizations such as the International Rescue Committee, the United Nations Association of the USA, the Brookings Institution, the J. Paul Getty Trust, and many others. He twice served on the Carnegie Corporation Board of Trustees, first between 1978 and 1985, and again between 1989 and 1993. He was also a member of the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, which was established in 1994 to address myriad looming threats to world peace.  

In the months and years following September 11, 2001, Mr. Whitehead steadfastly led his fellow New Yorkers in rebuilding lower Manhattan and giving the nation a memorial worthy of the victims of that tragic day. He assumed the chairmanship of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, and for five years oversaw the creation of a master plan for rebuilding at Ground Zero. Today, it gives me pleasure to know that Mr. Whitehead lived to see his hard work come to fruition.  

I was privileged to serve with Mr. Whitehead for 12 years on the J. Paul Getty Trust, and later, on the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the 9/11 Memorial Jury. When he asked me to serve on these latter organizations, I could not say no, and told him it would be an honor to answer his call. Indeed, over the course of the 34 years I knew him, it was a privilege to have Mr. Whitehead as a friend and mentor. He helped me with some of the most difficult decisions I had to make, and was always ready with sound and sage advice.

His altruism and his influence, so beneficial to our city and our country, will be deeply missed.