John Cunningham Whitehead was born on April 2, 1922, in Evanston, Illinois, where his father, Eugene, was training to be a telephone lineman for Western Electric. Whitehead and his younger sister, Margaret, grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, where Whitehead raced pigeons with his friends and became a committed Boy Scout.
He graduated Haverford College in Pennsylvania in 1943 before joining the U.S. Navy, where he participated in the invasions of Normandy, Iwo Jima and Okinawa during World War II.
Whitehead joined Goldman Sachs in 1947, after receiving a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School. Whitehead became a trusted lieutenant to Sidney Weinberg, the legendary senior partner who had helped rescue the firm after the 1929 stock-market crash and whose descendants still hold top positions at the firm.
When Weinberg’s son, John, joined the firm in 1950, he was seated directly across from Whitehead. The two became close collaborators as their careers moved in parallel: Both became partners in 1956 on their way to becoming members of Goldman’s management committee.
When Sidney Weinberg’s successor, Gus Levy, died in 1976, the two Johns took over as co-chairmen and co-senior partners.
Whitehead left Goldman in 1984 to become deputy secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, recruited to the post by the then-Secretary of State George Shultz. Whitehead focused on relations with Eastern Europe at a time when the U.S. was negotiating arms-control agreements with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was implementing his policy of perestroika.
When Reagan’s term ended in 1989, Whitehead re-entered the private sector as chairman of AEA Investors LLC and took on a variety of roles, including chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by al-Qaeda terrorists that destroyed the World Trade Center, Whitehead became chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation.
Mr. Whitehead is the former Chairman of such diverse organizations as the United Nations Association of the United States, The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, The Harvard Board of Overseers, the International Rescue Committee, Haverford College, The Asia Society, and the Hungarian-American Enterprise Fund. He is Chairman of the Boy Scouts of America/GNY.
His marriage to the former Helene Shannon, known as Sandy, ended in divorce, as did his marriage to the former Jaan Chartener. His third wife, Nancy Dickerson, the television news reporter, died.
He is survived by his wife, the former Cynthia Matthews; his daughters, Anne Whitehead and Sarah Whitehead; his son, J. Gregory Whitehead; two granddaughters; seven stepchildren; and 18 step-grandchildren, said Barry Zubrow, a close friend of more than 40 years.