In the wake of the terrorist attack that felled the World Trade Center and several adjacent buildings, leaving a 16-acre hole in downtown Manhattan, New York Governor George Pataki zeroed in on John C. Whitehead, a former Deputy Secretary of State and onetime chairman of the investment firm Goldman Sachs, to run the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation.
It is this agency that will ultimately determine the elements - office buildings, mixed-use towers, parks, a memorial - that will rise from the ashes of this unprecedented disaster.
Quite a challenge for a man who's pushing 80, but perhaps not nearly as daunting as his experiences on D-Day: During his service in the Navy in the Second World War, Mr. Whitehead participated in the invasion of Normandy, "but at least I wasn't in charge of it," he told the New York Times. He served aboard the USS Thomas Jefferson, an amphibious transport. During the landing, he recalled, "we dropped the ramp on the beach and of the 24 soldiers who came off the ship first, probably half were killed in the first hundred yards or so."
He also participated in the invasions of southern France, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
Before the war, Mr. Whitehead, who was born in 1922 in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in New Jersey, where his family moved when he was two, graduated from Montclair High School in 1939 and went on to Haverford College, from which he graduated in 1943 with a bachelor's degree in economics. He was president of the Student Council and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
After the war, he attended the Harvard Business School, receiving his M.B.A. degree with distinction in 1947. He later received honorary LL.D. degrees from Haverford College and Pace University.He joined Goldman, Sachs & Co. in 1947 as a junior statistician and worked there for 38 years. He became a partner in 1956 and senior partner and co-chairman in 1976. During that period, Goldman Sachs developed into one of the world's foremost banking and brokerage firms. In November, 1984, he retired as co-chairman and as a general partner.
In April 1985, Mr. Whitehead was asked to become Deputy Secretary of State, number two to Secretary George Schultz, in the administration of President Ronald Reagan. He was sworn into office in July 1985, and served until January 1989. When Mr. Schultz was away from Washington, he was Acting Secretary of State.
Over the years, Mr. Whitehead has served on the Board of Directors of numerous companies, including American District Telegraph Company, Crompton Company, Crompton and Knowles Corporation, Dillard Department Stores, Household International, Loctite Corporation, and the Pillsbury Company. As a leader in his industry, he served as a director and chairman of the Securities Industry Association and as a director of the New York Stock Exchange.
Long active in a variety of educational, civic, and charitable organizations, he is a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard College and former chairman of the Board of Managers of Haverford College. He is a trustee of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Tri-Lateral Commission.
He is a former president of the International Rescue Committee, in which capacity he traveled widely around the world for the cause of political refugees. He also served as a director of the New York City Partnership, the American Productivity Center, Junior Achievement, and Outward Bound.
Since returning from Washington to New York in January 1989, he has become associated as chairman or trustee with several additional non-profit organizations, including the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Asia Society, the Greater New York Councils/Boy Scouts of America, the Lincoln Center Theater, and the United Nations Association of the United States.
His principal business activity had been AEA Investors, Inc., a special situation investment company of which he was chairman.
And then Governor Pataki came to call or, if you will, do a bit of friendly arm-twisting.
"This is probably the most difficult, complicated problem I've faced in my lifetime," he told the Times. "We want to see the whole bottom of Manhattan developed as a unified community."
This will be far easier said than done.
Mr. Whitehead, who was married to Nancy Dickerson, the television news reporter and commentator - she died in 1997 - is the father of eight and, at last count, the grandfather of six.
Photo Credit: https://www.cnbc.com/2015/03/21/40m-art-collection-of-goldmans-sachs-former-chairman-john-whitehead.html