A business executive and diplomat recalls a long life of service, including recent work, post-9/11, as head of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.
Whitehead grew up in the Depression, a matter he revisits late in his account, when, as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, he warns that the stock market bubble of the mid-1990s “could lead only to one result: a terrible crash.” Headed for a career as a college admissions officer, Whitehead opted for business instead, just when WWII broke out. Trained as a naval accountant, he found himself commanding a landing craft at D-Day. It’s conceivable that memories of the event helped mold Whitehead’s career as a diplomat, though he makes no such stretch here; having earned many fortunes as a financier, he served diligently in the Reagan administration as deputy secretary of state under George Schultz, and, Whitehead relates, he made it a special project to open up Eastern Europe in rather the same spirit as Nixon opened up China to American diplomacy. His insistence that the State Department consider the nations of the Soviet bloc to be “differentiated”—that is, still distinct and individual—was met by considerable resistance on the part of National Security Council hardliners; particularly implacable was an old Wall Street rival, Don Regan, though Nancy Reagan was even more formidable after Whitehead publicly disagreed with the president during the Irangate mess. He scored a victory over the hardliners when, he relates, he convinced Reagan to pay up on belated dues to the United Nations—which he adds, George H.W. Bush undid, bowing once again to the right wing. (Reading between the lines, one might conclude that Whitehead has small regard for any Bush except the unrelated Vannevar.) Whitehead closes by describing the work he has done to rebuild Lower Manhattan, accomplished in part by some very shrewd dealings with residents and businesspeople who are now helping the area flourish anew.
Altogether, a pleasing memoir, with many lessons in practical leadership and public duty.