Chester E. Whiting, 84, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who was founder of the U.S. Army Field Band and the chairman of the Prince George's County school board when a massive and controversial busing plan went into effect in 1973, died of cardiopulmonary arrest March 21 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He lived in Takoma Park.
For 40 years he was military musician. During his career he also was a teacher and school administrator in Maryland and his native Massachusetts. A mild-mannered man who was nonetheless capable of pointed remarks, his work in Prince George's was done when the county was still in transition from a rural farm area to a heavily populated group of suburban communities. Whatever his personal views may have been, Col. Whiting provided cool-headed leadership when it was needed to comply with federal court desegregation orders.
Col. Whiting, a Boston native, graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music. Prior to World War II, he was director of instrumental music in the public schools of Malden, Mass.
He also was in the Massachusetts National Guard, and from 1924 to 1940 he led the band of the 110th Cavalry. When the war began, he went on active duty in the Army and was sent to the Southwest Pacific. There, he organized the band of the Americal (Infantry) Division, which was activated in 1942 in New Caledonia.
He served with the division in the Northern Solomons and the Philippines. In combat, bandsmen act as stretcher bearers for the wounded and perform other duties, but they still keep up their musical skills and turn out for parades and other ceremonies in quiet times. Col. Whiting wrote several marches during this period.
In 1944, he was ordered to Washington to form the Combat Infantry Band, which traveled throughout the country selling War Bonds.
After the war, Col. Whiting decided to stay in the Army. In 1946, he organized what became the U.S. Army Field Band. The unit is based at Fort Meade, Md., and the colonel led it on tours in this country and Europe. Sometimes it played music he wrote himself.
Col. Whiting retired from the Army in 1960 and went to work as a music teacher in the Prince George's County school system. In 1967, he was appointed to the county school board by Gov. Spiro T. Agnew. In 1973, the board became an elected body. Col. Whiting continued to serve until 1980, when he was defeated.
His service spanned the years in which the county's black population was increasing rapidly. School desegregation was a difficult and emotional issue. Col. Whiting favored neighborhood schools and in 1971 and 1972 he joined a majority of the board in voting against full desegregation.
But in 1973, when a federal court ordered extensive busing to carry out a previously mandated desegregation plan, he moved ahead with it. He became chairman of the board in that year and he said the court's edict was the law of the land. He characterized the adverse reaction of some officials and parents as "hysteria."
Col. Whiting's military honors include the Bronze Star and two Legion of Merit medals. He was a past president of the American Band Masters Association.
His marches include "The Doughboy and Marine March," "The Caduceus March," and "The Schoolboards of America March." He also wrote an autobiography called "The Baton and the Pendulum."
Survivors include his wife, Helen B., of Takoma Park; a daughter, Susan E. Whiting, and a stepdaughter, Phyllis H. Boyd, both of San Francisco; a brother, Frank, of Elkin, N.C.; three sisters, Margaret G. Foster of Merrimack, N.H., Florence E. Gilman of Tecumseh, Mich., and Dorothy E. Blamire of Ogunquit, Maine; two grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.