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/AllOTSEGO.com)
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.
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”
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.
COOPERSTOWN – Lee Brathwaite, a rising executive as NYTel evolved into Verizon, found himself in a tough transition – from operations to sales.
“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.
‘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.”
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.