John Whiteman helped build heavy-equipment seller Empire Southwest into one of the largest private companies in Arizona, employing roughly 1,900 people statewide. But friends and colleagues say they mainly remember him as a force for philanthropy, especially that focused on making life better for young children. Whiteman, who died May 30 at age 79, was a force for early childhood education, improved health care for minors and protections against human trafficking.
In 1963, John O. Whiteman joined Empire Southwest in Arizona and eventually took the reigns from his father, Jack, and become the second-generation CEO. He retired from the company as chairman and CEO in January 2003. Whiteman is currently president of the Whiteman Foundation, and speaks extensively around the country on topics dealing with early childhood education. He is co-founder and co-chair of Educare Arizona, a world-class educational childcare center planned for the Phoenix metropolitan area, and serves on the boards of numerous corporate and nonprofit entities, including the Arizona Museum for Youth, the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, the Phoenix Symphony and the Arizona Community Foundation.
Whiteman was born in a small Oregon town, Pendleton, in 1940. He moved to Arizona when his father, Jack, received the Caterpillar dealership for Arizona. He earned a degree in sociology at Arizona State University
Whiteman had children of his own — five kids, 16 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He most recently lived in Phoenix with his wife, Betty.