Picayune Item’s Super Senior: Sidney L. Whitley

Published 12:10 am Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sidney L. Whitley is this week’s Picayune Item Super Senior because of the amazing contributions that he has made both directly and indirectly to Pearl River County and the world through both scientific and philanthropic work.

If you speak to someone who is currently involved with Whitley and you will hear words of respect and gratitude for contributions he makes towards every endeavor in which he is involved.

Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation (LPRVF) CEO, Dr. Ted J. Alexander, says, “Whitley has been a contributor to business, community, philanthropic and related entities for a least a half century … I can think of no one who has had a greater impact on the mental, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being of the children and their families served by the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation to this community, at-large.”

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Whitley grew up in a rural coal mining community in Calhoun County, Alabama. A county which would later influence him to stay and raise his family here, in Pearl River County, because of similarities in community and local values.

He says, “I spent 16 months in Korea as a army officer working with artillery and long range missiles. Prior to leaving, I wrote home inquiring about a job teaching school. I contacted the school board when I got home and there was a brand new school in my hometown that needed a physics and chemistry teacher.

“Spudnick was launched during that time and it got my attention because of my background in artillery and long range missiles. I didn’t know how to get into NASA, but I saw an ad for Eglin Air Force Base and applied for the job. They asked me to start the next day but I finished my semester teaching first.

“I went to NASA in Houston, Texas and got involved in imaging the earth from space as a data systems analyst. I had been there for eight years when Stennis Space Center was about to be closed down back in ‘71 and they needed to put something else in it. They invited all of the agencies to put something there so Johnson Space Center put the remote sensory imaging center here. We designed systems to process info from environmental satellites. My organization built one for the Navy to process info from 9 environmental satellites.

“I was only supposed to be here for three years but loved it and wouldn’t leave. This was like the home town that I had grown up in and I liked the prospects of raising my two little girls here rather than doing it in Houston.” 

Upon moving to Picayune, Whitley says he realized that a majority of people in Houston were not from there so were eager to make new friends.

 “I knew that the best way to make friends is to go to church. We got involved in the First United Methodist Church and served in about everything we could. I have taught Sunday School class for close to 40 something years. I teach the Underwood Class. It started as a young folks class when it started out and Cecil passed away shortly after I came here and they prevailed upon me to step in. I like teaching because you have to dig in. You tend to do that when you have a reason to do so — teaching is my reason.

“I spend a lot of time preparing for my Sunday School class. I was told to spend three times as much outside of class as I do inside class. I spend 8 to 10 times preparing. It is because I like it. I grew up in a family that participated in church and I can’t remember not do that. Church is the place to be. From the time my two girls were little, I made a decision to go to church even when I don’t feel like it because it set a good example.”

Whitley currently holds a position as the vice president and financial officer on the board of directors of the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation and has since 1998.

Fellow board member, Dr. Tom Clark, former superintendent of Picayune School District  and president of the Gulf Coast Educational Consortium, says, “I have worked with him for seven years on the LPRVF board; he is the one the who looks after the money. He makes investments and stays on top of them.  He gives daily reports at the monthly board meetings. He is very conscientious.

“At the last meeting we had we learned that we are maintaining money in the principal part and it is actually growing thanks to his investments. It is 10 to 11 years into the organization’s history and we have more money due to interest and earnings on investments than when we started. This means that the money has been managed very well, which is what Sid does. He explains things well.”

Whitley says, “I had done a little investing before I retired from NASA. I believe in learning what you are doing with your finances and making responsible decisions. I believe you can’t afford to fall in love with one stock and investing in the long haul. But if it falls in the trend of being a poor producer or non producer then you must divest yourself from the stock.

“There was a time frame when many foundations lost half their worth. We currently have more than when we started March 23, 1999 and we have given seven to eight million dollars away in grants.”

In addition to the LPRVF, Whitley also is the recording secretary for Wesley Manor Retirement Facility in Hattiesburg.

“I have been on the Board of Wesley Retirement Center in Hattiesburg. I am proud of it because the management of that board is great. The manager does as good a job of managing that facility as any that I have ever interfaced with. Eighty-six percent of the residents are Baptist in the Methodist Facility. I have served on that board for the last six years,” he says.

A life-long learner, Whitley says, “I know that when people get older they can tend to lose some of their mental capacity and I make sure that I am using it more than not using it. My dad died at 87 and he stayed busy until he died. A characteristic that is inculcated in my early life — my parents were always busy trying to make a difference for others. To me it is fun.”

Research Administrator at Pearl River Community College, Dr. Becky Askew, says, “As a member of the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation Board and as a member of the Rotary Club of Poplarville, I have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Sid Whitley for a number of years. Not only is Sid a gentleman, he is also an outstanding citizen dedicated to his family, friends, church, and community. He is, indeed, a super senior citizen.”