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Phil Whitney: IfA's Best "Friend"

by Karen Rehbock

Phil Whitney

Phil Whitney is one of the IfA's most enthusiastic supporters. He joined the Friends of Hawaii Astronomy in 2000, the first year of the group's existence, and attends many IfA functions. He also lends a welcome helping hand at IfA's popular annual open house, where he tries to recruit new "Friends."

At the IfA, Whitney is fondly known as "Mr. Rotary Club" because, since 1999, he has arranged for IfA astronomers to give talks to many of the Oahu Rotary clubs.  (He is an active member and past president of the Rotary Club of Honolulu.) Astronomer Paul Coleman says that he loves giving talks to the various Rotary clubs because "Phil picks me up at the Institute, drives me to the meetings, treats me to lunch, lets me give my talk, and afterwards returns me back to the office."

Whitney's interest in astronomy goes back many years to when he first read works by George Gamow and Fred Hoyle (known for their work related to cosmogenesis) and Arthur C. Clarke (inventor of the geosynchronous communications satellite, but better known for writing science fiction). This interest was revived as he neared retirement: "In 1998 I was beginning a transition to full retirement and saw an article on the Institute, and this rekindled my interest in astronomy." He made a phone call to the IfA Director's Office, received a packet of information, visited, and soon started arranging Rotary talks. Whitney says, "I feel very fortunate to associate with such a professional, forward-looking group that is bringing new knowledge to the world and important economic and educational benefits to our state." He frequently attends IfA colloquia, where he often questions the speakers.

Whitney has had several impressive careers. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1948 and was posted to many interesting places in the United States and abroad, including Europe, Iran, Vietnam, and Hawaii. He retired in 1971 with the rank of colonel and decided to make Hawaii his home. In civilian life, he was a consultant with Interim Career Consultants, as well as a board member and Hawaii representative of a diamond importing and wholesale firm before retiring in 1999. He also served for 26 years as voluntary president of Forty Plus of Hawaii, a career transition organization, and was a member of the Governor's Small Business Advisory Committee.

Whitney is now retired from business but is still very active in the community. In addition to his IfA and Rotary activities, he is the internal auditor of the Hawaii Army Museum Society, a lector at his church, and chair of the Fitness Center Committee at the Outrigger Canoe Club. He is also an avid tennis player.

Whitney's enthusiasm is infectious, and he is a delight to know. He and his lovely wife Carolyn live in Manoa, but they love to travel. Every year they plan trips to broaden their knowledge, whether to England to attend a seminar in Oxford or to Italy to tour art museums.