News of Otsego County

Dolores Wharton

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.”

Cooperstown Communes At 8th Annual Harvest Feast


Cooperstown Communes

At 8th Annual Harvest Feast

Dolores Wharton, left in top photo, and Elma Del Rosario each recognized a kindred spirit in the other late this afternoon at Cooperstown’s eighth annual Community Harvest Dinner: Both were wearing MIT gear. (In the background is Dolores’ husband, retired SUNY chancellor Clifton R. Wharton Jr.)  Again this year, Main Street was closed off between Fair and Lake streets and 200-300 people participated in the Village of Cooperstown’s annual pot-luck supper. One of the original organizers, Rebecca Weil, credited MJ Harris of Fly Creek with coming up with the idea, and there MJ was (inset photo), a few steps away, chatting with Bertine McKenna, the retired Bassett CFO. Weil said the weather’s been great all eight years; only once was it a little chilly, although sunny. She also reported that eight youngsters who have helped set up tables in the middle of the street for the past eight years were here again, but preparing to graduate from CCS next June – the end of an era. (Jim Kevlin/

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.


Ekofisk Trip Builds Camaraderie Among Phillips Petroleum Directors


Ekofisk Trip Builds Camaraderie

Among Phillips Petroleum Directors

A 1990 trip to a Phillips Petroleum drilling platform in Ekofisk, a huge North Sea oil field, built camaraderie between old-line board members and “interlopers” such as Dolores Wharton, the oil giant’s first woman and black director.

Editor’s Note:  Dolores Wharton of Cooperstown and NYC, the SUNY system’s former First Lady, was the first black woman, as well as the first black, on a number of Fortune 500 boards.  In her new memoir, “A Multicultural Life,” she describes Phillips Petroleum directors’ 1990 camaraderie-building trip to a North Sea oil rig, which helped “the old guard (adjust) to us interlopers.”

By DOLORES WHARTON • from “A Multicultural Life”

In a mandatory wet suit, Phillips Petroleum board member Dolores Wharton prepares to board a 20-passenger helicopter headed for the Ekofisk, the North Sea oil rig. To her left is CEO Bill Couce. (from “A Multicultured Life.”

The intense exchanges during our meetings soon relaxed as the old guard adjusted to us interlopers. A sense of camaraderie evolved during a field trip undertaken by the entire board and company officers to ekofisk, the gigantic oil drilling platform twenty miles off the coast of Norway. That trip – the full board’s first-ever excursion to the platform – was at my request and to fulfill my desire to experience an actual drilling platform located in the North Sea.

Discovered in 1969, Ekofisk oil field, was so huge that at its peak, its oil and gas output amounted to more than a third of Phillips’ total energy production. Our party, arriving from different parts of the United States, gathered in London. From there, one of the company’s ocean-crossing planes took us to Stavanger, Norway, where a twenty-passenger helicopter that droned for two hours, brought us over the vast North Sea.

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.

With Determination, Discipline The Whartons Led The Way


‘There are no Caucasians present, though it would be difficult to distinguish them from many of those mingling in the mix of multi-hued wedding guests. Without exception, the guests are dressed fashionably, with stylish attire and stunning jewelry. The men are doctors, lawyers and undertakers; the women are school teachers and social workers … (The) waitstaff make their way through the crowd, bearing silver trays laden with chicken and crab croquettes, creamed sweetbreads on toast points, and slices of Virginia ham rolled with water cress – to accompany the Champagne punch served in crystal cups. Such is the life of many accomplished upper-middle-class Negroes along the Eastern Seaboard in the 1920s and 1930s.”

DOLORES WHARTON, from “A Multicultured Life”

With Determination, Discipline

The Whartons Led The Way

Dolores Wharton’s memoir, “A Multicultured Life,” will be available Sept. 1 on and

The quote, above, is Dolores Wharton’s earliest memory, recounted in “A Multicultured Life,” an engaging, irresistible memoir of not quite a century of American life, as she – in tandem with husband Clifton R. Wharton, Jr., the former SUNY chancellor (and much more) – moved from the nation’s black aristocracy to the heights of the American mainstream – in academe, industry and government.

Theirs is a soaring life story, of hard work, discipline, determination – and achievement.

Her husband was son of the first black U.S. ambassador (to Norway, 1961-64).  He was a Harvard grad with a University of Chicago Ph.D., a Rockefeller envoy to South America and Malaysia, Michigan State president, then SUNY chancellor, TIAA-CREF CEO and reinventor, deputy secretary of State, and retiree to Cooperstown (summers and weekends year ’round), where he’s served on Bassett’s and other key community boards.

He recounted his astonishing career in a 2015 memoir, “Privilege & Prejudice,” a title that encompasses all the opportunities and obstacles to overcome.

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