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Sunday, November 28, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dilettante Oliver Hills Whitney, Dies At 75

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Oliver Hills Whitney loved the taste of caviar and the smell of varnish on the deck of a tall ship.

A descendent of Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, Mr. Whitney became patriarch of a family that didn't concern itself with the banalities of bringing home a paycheck.

His was a good life, well lived.

A dilettante to the last, Mr. Whitney will also be remembered for sharing his passions and intellect.

Whether it was pointing out the features of historical aircraft as a volunteer at the Museum of Flight or driving a van for Group Health Cooperative, Mr. Whitney displayed the same good humor, grace and elegance, said those who knew him.

Mr. Whitney died Tuesday (Nov. 23) of emphysema and congestive heart failure. He was 75.

He was born on Sept. 26, 1924, and attended the Taft School in Watertown, Conn., and Yale University. George Weyerhaeuser, scion of the Northwest timber family, also attended both schools, and the two became friends.

During World War II, Mr. Whitney managed an air base in Keflavik, Iceland. He stayed on after the war, when the facility became a civilian airport for Pan-American Airways.

He returned to the U.S. and worked as a financial adviser on Wall Street in the late 1950s before retiring, said his daughter, Anne Whitney of Kirkland.

"He didn't really have a career. He was a Renaissance man. He read books and listened to music," she said.

A sailing buff, Mr. Whitney spent about 10 years refurbishing

tall ships to take part in the nation's bicentennial events in New York's harbor.

In 1985, at age 61, he moved to Seattle to be near his daughter and Weyerhaeuser.

Mr. Whitney lived on a houseboat on Portage Bay and volunteered at the Seattle Aquarium from 1987 to 1994. From 1991 to 1996, he was a docent at the Museum of Flight.

Mr. Whitney also read to the blind at a neighborhood nursing home and became a volunteer driver with Group Health, picking up elderly patients who couldn't drive to the hospital on their own.

As his health began to fail, Mr. Whitney moved to an assisted-living facility and later to a hospice. Every day, his daughter brought him the treats he so enjoyed.

"I brought him caviar and smoked salmon every day for three months," said Anne Whitney. "He loved the finer things."

He also is survived by daughters Claudia Whitney Burton of Munich, Germany, and Susan Whitney Perdon of New York, and five grandchildren.

A memorial service was held yesterday. Remembrances may be made in Mr. Whitney's name to the Bellevue Art Museum, 301 Bellevue Square, Bellevue, WA 98004.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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