Financier and New York blueblood John Whitman, the husband of former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman, died Thursday at the age of 71, according to a statement from the family. The statement noted that Whitman suffered a catastrophic brain injury on June 19th.
Whitman was known as a steady hand during his wife’s tenure as governor from 1994 to 2001, but was also praised for his low-key approach and strong negotiating skills. Friends and family say Whitman pulled off the tough task of spouse to a major political figure with self-confidence and a dry sense of humor.
Statement from former Governor Christie Whitman
“He passed away peacefully today, surrounded by his family,” ex-Gov. Whitman said in a statement released Monday. “He was a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather, and we are heartbroken to lose his presence in our lives. I am so grateful for the thoughts and prayers of so many who have showered our family with their love over these past two weeks.”
More on John Whitman
John Whitman was born into a well-known, wealthy political family in New York. His grandfather, Charles Whitman, served as governor of New York from 1915 to 1919, and is actually a notable character in the 1975 novel Ragtime.
However, Whitman decided early on that politics was not for him. “I couldn’t get elected dogcatcher,” he told The Star-Ledger in an interview. “I have never learned to be a very political person.”
During his career in the finance industry, Whitman was employed as an investment banker and financial consultant, including several years as a managing partner of VC firm Sycamore Management.
Christie and John Whitman were married for 41 years. During his wife’s term as governor, Whitman served as New Jersey’s first and to date only first gentleman from late 1994 through 2001.
Whitman focused on playing a behind-the-scenes role during his wife’s governorship, staying hands off for the most part except for occasional advice to his wife and top staff. One of his highest profile accomplishments was mediating the negotiations that kept the NHL’s New Jersey Devils from moving to another state.
“I am not Hillary Clinton,” he explained succinctly in an interview when asked about the then-first lady of the United States. “I won’t even tell you my middle name,” he noted jokingly, making a reference to Clinton’s then use of her maiden name Rodham.
His claims notwithstanding, Whitman, who lived with his wife on a farm in Oldwick, New Jersey, was an important adviser in Christie Whitman’s first campaign. Colleagues highlight that he helped her put together a tax cut plan that political analysts have said was a big part of her win over Democratic candidate Jim Florio.
Statement from Pete McDonough
“He was a wonderful guy. He had strongly-held opinions that he wasn’t afraid to express, but they always had the best interests of the governor at heart,” noted Pete McDonough, who served as communications director in the Whitman administration. “He was a very clear thinker. He understood that she was the governor and he wasn’t. And he could always be counted on for good advice without being intrusive or demanding.”