News of Otsego County

clifton r. wharton jr.

Local Legacy: 33 Years Of Service


SUNY Chancellor, Wife

Brought Experience,

Friends To Cooperstown

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

Former SUNY Chancellor Clifton R. Wharton Jr. and his wife Dolores have retired from their Cooperstown retirement. (Jim Kevlin/

COOPERSTOWN –  If not for the Whartons, would Rosalynn Carter have ever looked across world-famous Otsego Lake toward the Sleeping Lion?

In 1978, when Clifton R. Wharton Jr. became SUNY chancellor, one of the functions he inherited was hosting a two-day retreat twice a year at The Otesaga for all 64 SUNY presidents.

The first day was a work day, he recalled in an interview from his and wife Dolores’ United Nations Plaza apartment over the weekend. “The other was playing golf,” he said.

“I decided they should have some systematic activities” – emphasis on “system,” as in SUNY – “in addition to these off-the-book things,” he said.

One of Dolores’ responsibilities, she said, was “organizing ‘wives programs.’ Some said they would never come to a ‘wives program’ – this was an issue throughout the country in those days.”

In response, Mrs. Wharton, a pioneer on corporate boards, from Kellogg to Phillips Petroleum, elevated the wives’ luncheon, inviting her fellow Gannett board member, First Lady Rosalynn, as well as pioneering pollster Elmo Roper and other luminaries.

By the time the Whartons were done, not just the wives, but the SUNY presidents themselves – mostly men in those days – were clamoring to attend Dolores’ event.

The anecdote was one of many that emerged during an interview marking the end of the Wharton’s 33 years at Doeclif, their summertime – and occasional Christmas – getaway in the hills off Glimmerglen Road.

As Dr. Wharton’s SUNY tenure neared an end in 1987 – he was then in his early 60s – the couple began considering retirement, first in Connecticut.

The Whartons were then living in one of the towers at SUNY’s downtown headquarters, the former D&H headquarters, which they’d renovated as the chancellor’s residence, and she ran into Norman Rice, director of the Albany Institute of History & Art.

He advised her that Donald L. Curran, the Merrill Lynch trust officer who served with her on the Albany Law School board, had passed away, and his home overlooking Otsego Lake was for sale.

“We walked into that living room and saw that view; it was over. We immediately fell in love with it,” said Dolores. “We loved every minute on that property. Rest, relaxation, love of life, love of each other.”

Plus, Curran had blasted into the hillside to anchor the one-story home, and created a huge basement – just what Clif Wharton needed for his archives, the basis of “Privilege and Prejudice: The Life of a Black Pioneer,” his sweeping 2015 memoir. Dolores’ own memoir, “A Multicultured Life: From the Little Red School House to Halls of Academe and Corporate Board Rooms,” followed last year.

As it happened, retirement had to wait until 1993. Dr. Wharton was recruited to lead – and modernize – TIAA-CREF, the university professors’ huge pension fund. When Bill Clinton was elected president, he was then lured into the State Department as the deputy secretary of state.

The Whartons could then spend April to October – plus Christmas – in Cooperstown, and were soon recruited into community life.

He found himself on the boards of Bassett Hospital, NYSHA (now The Fenimore Art Museum) and the Clark Foundation; he continues to serve on the latter.

“He brought an imposing presence to the board room,” recalls Paul D’Ambrosio, now Fenimore president; then chief curator. “An air of authority because of his experience. He was good natured and unflappable.”

Still, D’Ambrosio added, “When I looked down the table at Clif Wharton, I wanted him to be smiling.”
As he recounts it, he learned how to serve on boards by observing titans: Age 21 when, just out of Harvard, as assistant to Nelson Rockefeller, he prepared materials for board meetings and sat in.

“Watching these powerhouse operators, I learned, early on, the importance of being a board member and how you operate,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dolores was invited onto the Glimmerglass Opera board, given her background in art. (When they were stationed in Kuala Lumpur with the Rockefeller Foundation, she wrote “Contemporary Artists of Malaysia,” the first such study, and developed ties between Malaysian artists and New York’s avante garde.)

At Michigan State, where she was first lady to President Wharton, the couple entertained 3,000 people a year at Cowles House, the president’s mansion, and Dolores brought that experience to bear for Glimmerglass’ benefit.

“Their contacts in Albany were terrific,” said Cooperstown’s Bill Oliver, who joined the opera as director of development during Mrs. Wharton’s board tenure. “Utilizing those, recruiting people who were very well-connected and enthusiastic – the Whartons took the lead in that effort.”

The couple were also helpful in New York City, lining up support from the Newhouse family and other philanthropists and patrons of the arts.

“We brought friends from Albany on a bus,” she said of one event she remembers particularly fondly. “There were special seats at the opera. Afterwards, they came to the house for dinner, catered by the TIAA-CREF caterers – they knew how to put on a party.”

Other post-opera parties featured a concert group from Singapore, and one honored Tazewell Thompson when the opera performed his “Blue.” Members of the cast performed for partygoers.

With Dr. Wharton 94, and Mrs. Wharton ageless, the couple finally decided to consolidate at their United Nations Plaza quarters – they sold the house and moved in September.

“We found all of it extremely rewarding. It was all extremely pleasant for us,” said Dolores. “It was the view. It was the community we were in: You come through dear little Cooperstown, go past the golf course, mosey up our little grassy hill. It was all-embracing. It was a joy.”

“They are extraordinary people,” said Bill Oliver, “distinguished in all sorts of ways. Warm, human, very welcoming.”

NORTHRUP: Whartons Best President, First Lady We Never Had

Whartons Best President,

First Lady We Never Had

Dolores Wharton, whose book, “A Multicultured Life,” will be available on Sept. 1, and her husband, former SUNY Chancellor Clifton R. Wharton Jr. (Jim Kevlin/

To the Editor:

Your newspaper did us all a great favor with its coverage of Dolores Wharton’s autobiography, which serves as a fine complement to her husband’s book. You have helped put the Whartons in their proper historical context – they were pillars in the advancement of minority meritocracy in the United States, moreso than any ballplayer in the Hall of Fame.

Because, while Jackie Robinson proved that a black man could play in the Major Leagues, the Whartons proved minorities could rise to the top in the real-world major leagues of commerce, international relations, finance, government and the arts. And, in so doing, they paved the way for the advancement of the next generation of minority leaders – Barack Obama,
Julián Castro and Kamala Harris.

The Whartons may well be the best President and First Lady that the United States never had.


From Harlem Aristocracy, She Reached Nation’s Heights


From Harlem Aristocracy,

She Reached Nation’s Heights

Dolores Wharton, the SUNY system’s former first lady, with a copy of her memoir, “A Multicultured Life,” which will be available Sept. 1 on and (Jim Kevlin/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

Dolores with her husband, Clifton R. Wharton, Jr., with copies of their respective autobiographies, complementary accounts of the life they’ve lived together.

COOPERSTOWN – Lee Brathwaite, a rising executive as NYTel evolved into Verizon, found himself in a tough transition – from operations to sales.

Lee Brathwaite

“It was the most challenging transition of my career,” said Brathwaite, now CEO of Apex Construction, a Harlem-based company building commercial and multiple-unit residential structures and a board member for the Golub Company, which operates Price Chopper.

Among other things, in sales, his salary and his team’s paychecks depended on results.

He discovered communications skills – sharpened at Dolores Wharton’s Fund for Corporate Initiatives (FCI) through interactions with other young execs and captains of industry – enabled him to pull his team together, to develop a rapport with clients, and to close deals.

By the end of the second year, his team was routinely winning his corporation’s sales awards.

“It was the best experience of my career,” said Brathwaite, he said of his FCI experience.

As it happens, Wharton – she and husband Clifton R. Wharton Jr., the former SUNY chancellor, have owned a home above Otsego Lake for three decades – considers FCI as the pinnacle of her wide range of achievements.

Clifton R. Wharton Jr.’s Autobiography Published

Clifton R. Wharton Jr.’s

Autobiography Published

Clifton R. Wharton Jr., the retired SUNY chancellor and former deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration, surveys the landscape from his home above Otsego Lake. (Jim Kevlin/
Clifton R. Wharton Jr., the retired SUNY chancellor and former deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration, surveys the landscape from his home above Otsego Lake. (Jim Kevlin/

County Resident, Retired SUNY Chancellor Remembers

COOPERSTOWN – Clifton R. Wharton Jr., former SUNY chancellor, deputy secretary of state, Michigan State president,  president of Fortune 500 TIAA-CREF and former Rockefeller Foundation chair, has published his memoir, “Privilege And Prejudice.”

As the book tour begins, he will be interviewed this week by Bill Moyers at an event at the TIAA-CREF headquarters, then will appeared at 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, at The Fenimore Art Museum Auditorium for a lecture and book-signing; retired SUNY Oneonta President Alan B. Donovan will emcee.  To reserve seats, e-mail or call  547-1433.

book coverEditor’s Note:  Here is an excerpt from “The Titan Among Us,” an examination of Dr. Wharton’s life and book that appears in this week’s Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta.


Clifton R. Wharton Jr.’s archive, thousands of square feet set in a hillside off Glimmerglen Road, captures the scope of the enterprise: Row upon row of file cabinets; rows of shelving stacked with those heavy cardboard file boxes, hundreds of them, records of a life fully lived, fully achieved.

The final scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” comes to mind, where that government functionary boxes the invaluable artifact and rolls it down a long aisle, into oblivion, in a government warehouse that extends as far as the eye can see. Gone forever, the viewer concludes.

Not so with Dr. Wharton’s warehouse.  Son of a ground-breaking black U.S. diplomat, pioneering Harvard undergrad, former Rockefeller Foundation emissary (and later, chairman), Chicago Ph.D., Michigan State president, SUNY chancellor, Fortune 500 CEO and assistant secretary of state, Wharton has spent his retirement, more than two decades now, turning millions of records – letters from his mother, reports and studies from academe, memos from the heights of commerce and government, even an occasional Hy Rosen cartoon – into a unique and compelling memoir.

“Privilege And Prejudice: The Life of a Black Pioneer,” was published Sept. 1 by the Michigan State University Press …



PBS NEWSHOUR:  American Trailblazer Fears

We’re Losing Next Generation of Black Pioneers

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