In Memoriam: Dexter Whitehead

Dexter Whitehead, former director of the Center for Advanced Studies and dean of he Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, died on May 27, 2008, at his home surrounded by loving care. He was 85.

Dexter grew up in Richmond and Old Church, Va., and attended the McGuire's University School. He was enrolled in the University of Virginia and was awarded a B.S. in chemistry (1944), M.S. in physics (1946), and Ph.D. in physics (1949) and was a member of ATO, the Raven Society, the Jefferson Society, Sigma Xi and several physics and University organizations.

He was a Predoctoral Fellow at the Carnegie Institution’s Center for Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington, a physicist at the Bartol Research Foundation in Swarthmore and on the faculty at North Carolina State University from 1953-56. In 1956 he joined the physics faculty at the University of Virginia. He became a professor of physics in 1962 and chairman of the department in 1968. In 1965 he was appointed director of the Center for Advanced Studies and in 1969 became dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; both positions he held until 1989. He retired as Alumni Professor of Physics Emeritus in 1992. In 1975 he was the recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award of the University of Virginia.

Dexter was also an artist and many of his paintings reflect his love for both the University and Maine. Since 1951 he had spent every vacation at the family's summer homes in Maine — first on Southern Island and later on Hope Lane in Tenants Harbor. Some of his U.Va. paintings are on exhibit in the Garden Room on the West Lawn and at the Best Western Cavalier Inn. More recently his paintings were selected by the Arts in Embassy Program of the U.S. State Department and have been on location in Bamako, Mali; Ankara, Turkey; and Nairobi, Kenya.

Dexter is survived by his wife, Lois Gibson Whitehead; his sister, Constance Kiermaier of Norwalk, CT, and his two sons Oliver Day Whitehead of Portland, Maine, and Thomas Kenyon Whitehead of Charlottesville, and four grandchildren.

In keeping with Dexter’s commitment to academic excellence for the University, those who wish may make contributions to the Dexter Whitehead Graduate Fellowship Fund of the University of Virginia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The family would like to express their thanks and appreciation for support and care received during Dexter’s illnesses, with special thanks to the Hospice of the Piedmont.

(Obituary provided by the family.)

From University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III:

"Dexter Whitehead's vision, drive, and diligence were often cited as a key factor in the University's rise in the academic achievement, prestige, and research funding during the second half of the 20th century. He understood that improving the quality and stature of the University's
graduate programs was essential to building a great university.

"He spent his time observing the graduate school well before he began running it, and made it excellent because he knew when he began the work what he needed to accomplish."

"He was a remarkably reflective man, one who thought deeply and constantly about all sorts of things, and who pursued goals that evolved from that thinking. While his paintings capture thought-provoking views of the Academical Village, they also represent his way of thinking and his influence on the University."

• U.Va. Profiles on Dexter Whitehead (features video)