LENOX — Richard L. Whitehead, a civic leader for over 40 years who served as the first president of the Berkshire Community Action Council, died Wednesday at Kimball Farms Nursing Care Center, where he resided. He was 88.
"A great friend, a great community citizen, he helped so many people in so many different ways," said Eugene A. Dellea, the president of Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington and Berkshire Medical Center's Hillcrest campus in Pittsfield. "He had a very easy way about him and a good sense of humor as well. He was very interested in the community as to what was going on."
A native of Pittsburgh, Whitehead came to the Berkshires in 1963 to be the director of employee relations for the former Berkshire Life Insurance Co.
Over the next four decades he served on a variety of committees and boards in the educational, business and cultural fields, often as either chairman or president.
Whitehead was named the first president of the Berkshire Community Action Council in 1966, and the first recipient of the G. Fred Lincks Award for outstanding leadership from the Pittsfield Family YMCA in 1984. In 1986, he became the first recipient of the former North Adams State College's Greylock Award, which recognizes extraordinary contributions that have had a positive impact on the college.
In further recognition of his contributions to the community, Whitehead received the Esther Quinn Award from the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce in 2005. That award is given to a member of the Berkshire community who has been involved in several volunteer efforts, and has continued to make the Berkshires a better place to live and work.
In the arts, Whitehead helped to create the community advisory board at Barrington Stage Company, which BSC Artistic Director Julianne Boyd said helped ease the performing arts company's transition from Sheffield to Pittsfield in 2006.
"He was instrumental in getting community support once we moved to Pittsfield, and in getting us to know community leaders," said Boyd, who originally met Whitehead at a Berkshire Chamber of Commerce function.
"I felt that I was the luckiest person in the world having such a great consultant helping me not only in the community, but in business," she said. "He was a very, very knowledgeable man in many different areas."
Shortly after being named president of the BCAC, which was founded as the county's arm of an anti-poverty program, Whitehead was described as "a man of courage" and "a president with a reputation for getting things done," in an article published in The Eagle in November 1966.
"He is judged as a man with a conservative bent toward politics — he admits to being a Republican — and a humanistic approach to people and their problems," The Eagle reported.
In 1982, Whitehead was listed as the ninth-highest-paid lobbyist at the Statehouse in a report issued by the Secretary of State's Office. But he was one of only two lobbyists in the top 10 who listed his full annual salary from his place of employment. "Most lobbyists file reports that leave the public guessing," The Eagle reported in a story on the lobbyists' list.
"My estimate is that in the past year I devoted less than 5 percent of my time lobbying for the company," Whitehead told The Eagle. "So if I followed the pattern of others, my pay would be less than $4,000."
Whitehead retired from Berkshire Life in 1992 as chief administrative officer and secretary of the company. He had been named chairman of Berkshire Life's board and chief administrative officer in 1990.
He also chaired the Berkshire Community College board of trustees for four years, and Berkshire Medical Center's board of trustees for two years, both in the 1990s. He received the Gladys Allen Brigham Award from Berkshire Health Systems board of trustees in 2007.
Whitehead was named the third president of the Pittsfield Urban Coalition in 1970; was elected president of the North Adams State College Foundation in 1977; and served as chairman of the Central Berkshire Chamber of Commerce in 1985. He was a past president of Berkshire County Cerebral Palsy, and a past chairman of the Berkshire Business Community for the Arts.
Born in Pittsburgh on Feb. 26, 1927, Whitehead attended public schools in nearby Altoona, before serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1945-47.
A better than average student, Whitehead attended Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, where he played on the tennis team before graduating in 1950 with a degree in political science, speech and dramatics. He also met his future wife, the former Shirley Fritz, at Otterbein. The couple married on Aug. 19, 1950.
After graduating from Otterbein, Whitehead attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he combined academics with a full-time job managing a parking lot at night.
In 1951, Whitehead's son, David, was born on the morning his father was scheduled to take his first four-hour law school exam. After 18 months, Whitehead left law school and returned to Otterbein in 1952 as an admissions officer.
He served as a personnel assistant with the Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Pittsburgh, as a claims adjuster for Lumberman's Mutual Casualty Co. in Philadelphia, and as a personnel manager for Home Life Insurance Co. of New York for seven years before coming to the Berkshires.