The columnist Liz Smith once called him the "Chairman of the Establishment."
His very name screamed Wall Street gravitas.
John C. Whitehead. It even sounds powerful, doesn't it?
The former Goldman Sachs CEO who came up with a novel concept in the 1970's. How about we put the customer first?
Let's just say, had his firm followed up after he left, it could have saved an industry and country a lot of grief.
But that was then, the reality is John Whitehead is gone now.
He died this past Saturday. And let's just say, he's left a mighty void.
I guess it is common to say that of any industry giant when he or she passes.
But more than a few have spoken about how John more than passingly changed our world.
I'm not talking about his being among those who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.
I'm talking about all the stuff he did, apart from finance, when he changed careers 40 years after World War II.
When he joined the Reagan administration as Deputy Secretary of State in 1985 and connected with a fellow named Lech Walesa and urged Reagan to stand by this unusual Polish leader any way he could.
To when he spearheaded New York's rebuilding after the 9/11 attacks, and urged all American businesses to stand by the Big Apple any way they could.
Covering him over all these years, I was always struck by his calm, and his humor, and his always seeing the good, through the bad.
Like when he'd put a huge market selloff in perspective.
Or the time I cornered him in March 2000 to discuss these Goldman-inspired co-
Like the one between Citigroup's John Reed and Travelers Sandy Weill that famously blew up.
Try as I might, John never took the bate to bite or to bite back. "I'd rather tell 'em to their face," he'd tell me off-air.
A code of conduct for which it seem John Whitehead was the only money guy conducting it.
Quiet. Decent. And yes, even funny. Self-deprecatingly-Bob Newhart kind of funny, like the time he relayed this little story about his early days working at Goldman.
It was a hot and humid New York summer day, and John arrives at the office in a seersucker suit. Later Goldman scion Walter Sachs himself, stops the young recruit in his tracks.
"Young man," he asks, "do you work at Goldman Sachs?"
John sheepishly nodded, yes. Only for Sachs to reply, "in that case, I would suggest that you go home right now and change out of your pajamas."
John changed his outfit to look more the broker part, but he so loved constantly telling that humbling story.
Which, to me at least, proved he was anything but.
John Whitehead, dead at 92.