Alton Winslow Whitehouse, Jr., 85, passed away on May 18, 2013 after a brief illness. He was born in Albany, New York, grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, and had lived in Cleveland, a city he loved deeply, all of his adult life. A graduate of the University of Virginia, he earned a law degree from the UVA Law School in 1952, having served as editor of the law review. He began his career at the law firm of McAfee, Grossman, Newcomer, and Hazlett, becoming a partner six years later.
He became active in Nisi Prius, an attorney’s group in Cleveland. The firm merged with Squire, Sanders Dempsey. The firm’s biggest client was the Standard Oil Company of Ohio. Working closely with Sohio CEO, Charlie Spahr, Alton helped negotiate the deal that gave British Petroleum an ownership stake in Sohio in exchange for Sohio’s access to BP’s lease’s of oil-rich lands in Northern Alaska. He joined Sohio in 1968 as Senior Vice-President and General Counsel, becoming President and chief operating officer of the company in 1970, then Chairman and CEO in 1977.
In his years at Sohio, the company took a leading role in the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and became one of the leading energy companies in the nation. In 1986, BP consolidated its control over the company, then known simply as Standard Oil, and he retired. His decision in the early 1980s to keep the company’s headquarters in Cleveland and to build the Sohio Building, now called 200 Public Square, was regarded as a crucially important act of faith in the city of Cleveland at a time when the city badly needed investment and civic engagement and support.
As construction plans took shape, Alton was serving on the Cleveland Art Museum board. Sherman Lee, museum director, suggested that Sohio commission Claes Oldenburg to do a large public sculpture for the plaza in front of the building. Oldenburg created the large rubber stamp sculpture FREE STAMP. BP had taken control of the company and building by the time it was all finished and declined to use the sculpture, which now stands elsewhere downtown. Alton’s devotion to the city and the surrounding was a centerpiece of his and Helen’s longtime support of important institutions in Greater Cleveland. He served on the boards of the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Holden Arboretum, Hawken School, Vocational Guidance and Rehabilitation Services. He also devoted time to the University of Virginia Law School Foundation, and chaired the United Negro College Fund fundraising campaign in Northeastern Ohio for a term. He regarded the UNCF as one of the most efficient charities in the country and continued to support it for the rest of his life.
In addition to his charitable work, Alton served on the boards of Cleveland Cliffs, Cleveland Trust, Ohio Bell, McGean-Rohco, Midland-Ross, the Ferro Corporation, the Orvis Company, and Timken Steel. He was an active member of the Business Roundtable, the American Petroleum Institute, and a variety of other business groups. He was also a member of numerous clubs, including the Chagrin Valley Hunt Club, Kirtland Country Club, Pepper Pike Country Club, Union Club, Tavern Club, University Club, Rolling Rock, Metropolitan, Whitford Woods, and Ottawa clubs.
He leaves behind his beloved wife, Helen, daughter Sarah, and son Tony and his wife Noelle and son Peter and his wife Lisa Mancini, as well as six grandchildren: Mikailah and Gaelen McKee, Leland and Jackson Whitehouse, and Valerie Samet and Lillian Whitehouse.
The family prefers that those who wish may make contributions in his name to the Holden Arboretum, 9500 Sperry Rd., Willoughby, OH. 44094, where a Memorial Service will be held Saturday, June 8th at 10 AM. (shuttle service from the parking area will be provided). For additional information, complete obituary and to sign an online guestbook, please log on to: www.Brown-Forward.com. Brown-Forward Service 216-752-1200
Published in The Plain Dealer on May 21, 2013.