W.C. Whitley, who spent more than a quarter century on Macon City Council and nearly four decades in public education, will be laid to rest Thursday morning.
Whitley, a fixture at City Hall from 1969 through 1995 and a former principal at Dudley Hughes and Southwest high schools, died Sunday at the age of 89.
To sum him up, Ed DeFore, a veteran city councilman now in his first term as a Macon-Bibb County commissioner, said, “He was respected.”
“When I went on the City Council 44 years ago, I was like a kid going to the first grade. I didn’t know anything about politics, and Dr. Whitley took me under his wing,” DeFore said. “I got baptized down there politically under the leadership of W.C. Whitley.”
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By most accounts, Whitley successfully juggled a high-profile political career with a demanding day job in the Bibb County school system. He was hired in 1947 as a teacher at the Macon Vocational School and for years led the now-closed Dudley Hughes Vocational School.
In 1970, he was transferred to Southwest High School, where he was principal of the entire Southwest complex, which included two middle schools. Under his watch, Southwest was known as one of the largest high schools in the country.
Henry Ficklin, who served with Whitley on the council and worked for him as a teacher at Southwest, said he was “one of the fairest men I’ve ever worked for. ... He was appointed (to Southwest) when the racial situation wasn’t the best.”
But Ficklin said Whitley, who was born in Bowden, had the respect of both the students and the faculty.
“Dr. Whitley was really concerned about the students,” he said, “and was able to assess teachers’ gifts in working with the students.”
Whitley always kept school and politics separate when it came to Ficklin, the former councilman said.
“At no time did I ever have to worry about retaliation or resentment (at school) from my stance on things on council,” he said. “He never confused the two roles of me as a teacher and me as a council person, and I appreciated that.”
Former Councilman Theron Ussery said Wednesday that Whitley was “quick-witted and had a lot of knowledge” about the city, including downtown development, trash pickup and substandard housing.
“We never had any fights,” Ussery said. “We generally agreed on things, and he kept things positive.”
Whitley left an impression on Steve Durden, who first met Whitley in the late 1950s when he played on a South Macon Little League team and Whitley was an umpire.
Their paths crossed again when Durden became Macon’s city clerk in 1985, a position he held for a decade.
“He was a true gentleman,” said Durden, now the deputy director of marketing for the Georgia Municipal Association. “He believed in Macon, and he made good decisions. ... He was well respected and kept the city’s best interests at heart.”
Whitley found himself mired in controversy on occasion.
In 1977, for instance, new school Superintendent Paul Hagerty publicly reprimanded Whitley for going directly to the Bibb County Commission and asking for $10,000 to help pay for band uniforms.
Then in 1980, Whitley criticized Hagerty for a systemwide attendance policy he said would cause some Southwest High students to lose credit for about 10 percent of the classes they were enrolled in.
Later that year, Hagerty and the school board moved Whitley to be half of a two-man “racial troubleshooting team” for the system. Speculation at the time was that removing Whitley from Southwest was strictly political retribution. Amid budget cuts in 1981, that team was disbanded, and Whitley was named director of the system’s alternative schools.
A few years later, in 1983 and 1984, Whitley came under fire, this time at City Hall. His downtown Macon photo identification shop became caught up in a criminal case involving check forgeries and credit card fraud. Whitley, under pressure to resign from City Council, said he would resume selling the cards but would require applicants to swear that the information they provided to him for the cards was true.
He survived that political scare, serving on the council for another decade.
Former Councilwoman Delores Brooks said she “thoroughly enjoyed” working with Whitley on city issues. She said Wednesday she didn’t know he had been sick. Had she known, she said she would have visited him before his death.
“We never had a cross word,” she said. “He surely will be missed.”
Whitley’s graveside funeral service is at 11 a.m. Thursday at Macon Memorial Park Cemetery.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Andy M. Drury, call 744-4477.