THERE HAVEbeen many people of good heart in this city who have agonized and strategized over its racial and economic divisions -- and then there was Betti Whaley, who ran circles around them all on her way to delivering results. Mrs. Whaley, the marvelous whirlwind president of the Washington Urban League since 1983, died Sunday at the age of 60, leaving the city better for her passage. Her friends throughout the town were drawn to countless projects by the force of her personality -- and the fact that she didn't allow time to say no.
It was this direct approach that fired up her following and generated effective programs. Her ideas brought job training for many who had been dismissed as untrainable, volunteer tutoring for public school students, rehabilitation of more than 400 rental housing units and creation of neighborhood development programs that actually involved the neighbors. Her forte was to marshal business, government and private groups for public policy initiatives.
Most of these efforts began and ran with early-morning phone calls to those whose support she expected that day. Her years with the Urban League meshed well with her work as a deputy assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a congressional aide and a city official in New York. Besides the Urban League, she was a working member of the D.C. Committee on Public Education, the D.C. Apprenticeship Council, the D.C. Baseball Commission and the D.C. Commission on Budget and Financial Priorities.
John E. Jacob, himself once a president of the Washington Urban League and now president of the National Urban League, said Mrs. Whaley "brought zealous advocacy, professional competence and a dynamic personality to an exemplary lifetime of service. Although she, in her own ... words, lacked tolerance for fools, she was patient and caring with those who needed her help and advocacy."
She was witty, down to earth and always thinking about how to make Washington work better for more people. Betti Whaley will be missed not only for all she did but also for how she did it.