A long-time educator, known as a caring and compassionate leader to those he worked with, died Tuesday.
Col. William (Jack) Whitener, former dean of University of South Carolina Union and former interim-chancellor of USC Upstate, died Tuesday at 90 years old. He was honored only days before as the Veteran of the Year in Union County.
Whitener was the dean of USC Union from 1977 to 1984 when he retired. He was also a member of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education from 1988 to 1993. In 1993 he was named interim-chancellor of USC Upstate, a post he held for about a year.
Brenda Childers, who served as Whitener's administrative assistant during his years at USC Union, said her boss was constantly touting the value of a higher education to everyone he came in contact with — young and old. He encouraged her to go back to school and get a degree, which she earned in 1986. "He was a very fine Christian, patriotic, Southern gentleman," she said.
Childers remembered Whitener as "fair" to the faculty and staff, and though he was demanding of them, he was equally demanding of himself.
"He was the most trustworthy and sincere person I ever knew," she said. "It didn't matter if you were a top executive or a custodian." Whitener inspired people to be their best because of his vision and personal investment, said Mary Jo Rogers who worked in USC Union's office of academic affairs during Whitener's tenure.
"He could get anything going This school was the love of his life; outside his wife and family," Rogers said. " He was one of the kindest men I've ever known in my entire life. You don't meet people like that but once in a lifetime."
Stacey Mills is now the assistant director of student affairs at USC Upstate, but he was a student when he said Whitener touched his life.
"I happened to be a student leader during his Interim Chancellorship here and had the pleasure of working closely with him on several committees," he said. "He was genuine and kind and when my grandmother passed away that spring, he remembered my family and me with a personal gesture."
Nearly two decades ago Whitener held his last official education post, but his influence was never gone from USC Union's campus, interim-dean Stephen Lowe said.
"I often went to him for advice since he was still in town," Lowe said. "He helped me and he helped the campus a good bit. In fact, he was just getting ready to help us out with a literacy festival." USC Union is a small campus, but it is twice the size it was when Whitener took over, Lowe said. He added a building to allow the school to continue to grow.
"His forte was just in the general area of leadership," Lowe said. "He was friendly, kind and generous with his time. That's the hallmark of a great leader to me."
His brief tenure at USC Upstate was also crucial to the development of the school, according to biology professor George Labanick.
"Colonel Whitener had a very open administration; he sat down and talked with people. He listened and he wanted to make things better. Colonel Whitener was able to change attitudes on campus at a very crucial time and I believe that he really made it possible for Dr. John Stockwell to be very successful when he became chancellor," he said.
Whitener was a native of Gastonia, N.C., and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1946. He served in the Korean and Vietnam wars and was the Chief of Staff at West Point from 1967-1969. He was also involved in several community organizations in Union County including the county museum, community foundation and historical society. He received the Palmetto Patriot Award in 2010 from then Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and the Centennial Cornerstone Award from Union County in 2011. Services for Whitener will be at 3 p.m. Friday at Grace United Methodist Church in Union and visitation will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Friday in the church parlor.