Part One: A Portrait of an Insider
By Will Banyan, Copyright © August 2008/2015 (revised and updated)
Author’s Note: This was part one of a planned two part study of John C. Whitehead (1922-2015), the former Co-Chairman of Goldman Sachs and the holder of numerous other positions. This article which originally appeared on the Martin Frost website in 2008, has been revised and updated to take note of Whitehead’s death earlier this year, and to incorporate a range of other new information that has come to light. Part Two, which examines Whitehead’s role in the successful effort in 2005 to prevent the Senate confirmation of Ambassador John R. Bolton as US Ambassador to the United Nations, after a lengthy delay to locate and incorporate new data, will hopefully be completed in coming months.
On February 7, 2015, at the advanced age of 92, former banker and Reagan Administration official John C. Whitehead passed away. Whitehead’s death prompted a torrent of overwhelmingly positive eulogising from his various friends, acquaintances, former work colleagues, Wall Street, and from the numerous non-government organizations that he had given both his time and financial support. The CEO and President of Goldman Sachs issued a memorandum to all their employees to lament Whitehead’s passing and to praise his “enormous grace and integrity” and his legacy that would “endure in the institutions he lead.” The President of Global Financial Integrity (GFI) International described him as a “true Statesman and an American Hero”; the Carnegie Corporation mourned the loss of a their former Trustee, “a great American and a patriot”; the Asia Society described its former Chairman of its Board of Trustees as “one of our greatest friends and champions”; the United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA) paid tribute to a “True UN Champion” and a “tower of strength” whose “generosity enabled many good things to happen”; and the Secretary-General of the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA), marked the passing of a “great leader and dear friend” who was also “truly a global citizen.” “In a world of growing fragmentation”, observed Henry Kissinger in his eulogy, Whitehead had “exuded universal principles.” US Senator John McCain expressed his sadness at the death of his “friend”, and paid tribute to Whitehead’s:
remarkable career spanning global finance and public service stands as a testament to a life devoted to causes greater than one’s own self-interest.
Reading this sad litany, one cannot help but ask: who was John C. Whitehead? How could this seemingly obscure citizen attract so much high-level praise? And how could he be celebrated as a both an American “patriot” and a “global citizen”?