"I wondered how many good ideas we oldies have to take to the grave when some may have merit," he said in a letter to me a few weeks ago.
Whitney, a retired veterinarian, was getting so worked up about government corruption and his big idea that he couldn’t sleep past 5 a.m.
And so he started writing down his thoughts. He recalled Thomas Paine, who in January 1776 published "Common Sense," a pamphlet advocating an American declaration of independence from the tyrannical King George III. (The rest is history.)
The result of Whitney’s early-morning jottings is now upon us. Entitled "A Time For Action," its 93 pages call for the elimination of lobbyists, among other passionate proposals.
After reading Whitney’s letter, I made my way out to his house overlooking "Lake George" in Orange. He lives there with Dorothy Whitney, whom he introduces as "my bride," though they have been married 44 years.
He is 89, she is 91. "I married a younger man," she told me.
"These presidential candidates are missing all the big subjects," Whitney said as soon as we sat down. "I’ve got the big subjects in my book."
When I asked if any candidate has won his support for the Feb. 5 Connecticut primary, he said, "John Edwards is the only one who says he wouldn’t let a lobbyist into the White House. I was upset hearing Hillary (Clinton) say she wouldn’t say that."
"As it stands now," Whitney declared, "I will vote for Edwards."
His "bride" interjected, "We have to have some conversation about this, George. Before I leave this world, I want to see a woman president."
He moved on to tell me more about his big idea. "People point out problems, but they don’t point out what to do about them. So I wrote a book with the problems and the answers."
Here’s his idea, as stated in his letter: "Why not create a voluntary pledge to present to a legislator, present or aspiring, to take if he or she wants my vote in the next election? A pledge that states, ‘If I win the election, neither I nor my staff will have anything personal to do with lobbyists.’ Another pledge would be for the constituent that he or she will not vote for a candidate who will not agree to the pledge."
"A friend told me, ‘George, that’s pie in the sky,’" Whitney said as he sat at his table. "Well, every good idea is pie in the sky. If it’s worth anything, it’ll fly. If it’s not, it’ll die."
"I’m a nobody," he said cheerfully. "But there are thousands of nobodies who know this is a problem. All who act can be somebodies."
Whitney added, "If we get enough people to take the pledge, it could be a powerful tool. It could change the whole government."
Then he said, "I’m emotional about this."
When Whitney left the room briefly, Dorothy confided, "I listened to him talk about this day after day. It got to be a little depressing. I finally said, ‘Why don’t you write a book?’ — thinking he’d get it out of his system."
Clearly, it didn’t work. But he doesn’t think his book is "depressing." He dedicated it to Oprah Winfrey "and to all others who are optimistic about the future."
In the conclusion he wrote, "My bride claims I am too optimistic a person to end without proclaiming I am optimistic about the future. The problems mentioned are only a proclamation as to some problems needing attention and are not that difficult to correct."
His other ideas include creating "cottages" where inner city kids of preschool age would meet with parents and teachers to prepare for elementary school. He suggests they be funded by foundations or Yale University.
When Dorothy told him people in poor neighborhoods might not want to be told what to do, he replied with one of his sayings: "If somebody’s in need, teach them how to fish."
Whitney had been working on a book for older runners when he put it aside to write "A Time For Action," which incidentally is not on bookstore shelves but can be ordered through bookstores or the publisher iUniverse.
Why the running book? "It’s a very happy obsession with me. I run three miles every other day indoors at Yale. I don’t take pills and I don’t have an acre of pain."
"You do have a peculiarity," Dorothy pointed out. "You wear different-colored socks."
I checked him out; she was right. One was yellow and one was pink.
He smiled. "Too much time is wasted sorting out clean socks."
Randall Beach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 789-5766.