a community man

by Sarah B., 15

“Success has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others.” This quote, from Danny Thomas, is a perfect example of how James Whyte lives his life.

James Whyte has seen it all and helped everyone he could along the way. His journey started in high school when he was on a student committee to help positively impact People of Color during the 1960s. As he grew up, Mr. Whyte never failed to continue acting in ways to benefit others, whether it was from his time serving in the Navy, being the President of the Red Bank Library, and anything and everything in between. Every experience he shared lit a spark and encouraged me to learn more about what he had to say.

James Whyte has almost always lived in the Monmouth County area; he was born at Fort Monmouth, spent brief periods of time living in Edison, Neptune, and Middletown, and then finally arrived at Red Bank in 1994. After living most of his life in central New Jersey, Whyte explained that “one of my goals in my youth was to leave New Jersey.” Focused on this goal, Mr. Whyte left New Jersey to attend a college in Vermont, which was just before he spent nearly four years abroad when serving in the Navy.

This detail caught my attention. Serving in the military is such a heroic task, so it was important that I dug deeper into some of the experiences he had while serving. Mr. Whyte explained that in the year 1971, just after he got out of college, he was at a time in his life that he wanted a change. Because both his father and grandfather served in the military as well, Mr. Whyte felt that joining the Navy would be best for him. During the time he was deployed, he was sent out on a destroyer escort for nearly two years, which was based in Naples, Italy. After researching more about this, I realized that being on a destroyer escort meant he was someone who was sent out on a smaller, yet faster and more agile ship to lead the large Navy ships. If an aggressor approached them, these destroyer escorts would attempt to protect the larger Navy ship from becoming damaged.

After asking Mr. Whyte what his favorite memory was while he was deployed, he told me about his trip to the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. He reminisced on how thrilling it was to get to see the home of the Greek Gods during a time that was filled with so many unpleasant memories.

Regarding Mr. Whyte’s involvement within his own community, there is a lot to discuss. To begin, Mr. Whyte started as a volunteer for the Red Bank Public Library. He took up this involvement after living in Arizona and Maine for many years, and once he came back to Red Bank, he was eager to positively impact the new faces around him.

Mr. Whyte explained how he started his work with the library: “I thought I could offer my services as a volunteer [when] the entire board resigned and they had a lot of financial problems.”

This meant that Mr. Whyte would do simple tasks that would often change depending on the day. To demonstrate this, he would try to help people with any problems they had with their technology. This is just one of the several examples in Mr. Whyte’s life that proves his selflessness.

After a year went by and Mr. Whyte continued to help the library with more of these random jobs that only required a few hours of his time a week, an opening on the board came up. Mr. Whyte was recommended for the position and was quickly appointed due to the bonds he had formed with the mayor and other important members of the library over time. I asked Mr. Whyte what it meant to be a board member, and he left the camera frame to go searching for a notebook listing all the other jobs and commitments he had to do now that he was on the board. After reading them off to me, I realized just how much work this job required. One of these jobs, the Strategic Plan Committee, requires Mr. Whyte to sit in meetings and discuss how they were going to change the library for the upcoming five years. The plan developed by the committee determines whether or not the library fails or succeeds.

As if this were not enough, after just two years of being on the board, the library’s president resigned, and Mr. Whyte was quickly elected to become the new president for two years. Mr. Whyte chuckled when he told me this and said he really doesn’t understand why he was elected to become the next president. But later, he came back to this topic to explain how throughout his life he has found himself in leadership positions quite often due to the abundance of responsibility he has.

After two years serving as the president of the Red Bank Public Library, Mr. Whyte handed the position off to another woman named Anncia Battoni, who he said was a much better person for the job. This meant that Mr. Whyte returned to serve on the board, but this time with more personal tasks to the patrons, including helping clients figure out how to effectively use technology. Mr. Whyte explained how people would come in every day with different problems on their phones and computers, and he would sit with them and help them for as long as they needed. Mr. Whyte even remembered a time where he helped a patron search for apartments in the area, even though his job was focused on technical difficulties. No matter how large or simple the task may seem to Mr. Whyte, he would always help his clients out until they were satisfied, giving yet another example of his selflessness.

Moving into the topic of hobbies, Mr. Whyte has one in particular that has become one of his greatest passions. This hobby is playing the bagpipes, and he does it in a band known as Pipes and Drums of the Atlantic Watch. Of course, knowing Mr. Whyte, this hobby is also a form of community service. The Pipes and Drums band performs at many different memorial services, including memorial services for 9/11 and Veteran’s Day. Mr. Whyte’s most special memory was when he played at Mount Mitchell in Atlantic Highlands at a 9/11 service. At least one hundred people from around the community came to this service where Mr. Whyte and the rest of his band played their bagpipes during the hour when the planes struck the Twin Towers. In addition to their playing, there was also someone there to discuss what happened that day. This speaker changes each year. Sometimes it’s a local politician; other years it’s someone from the Navy Depot. During the ceremony, the bagpiper’s emotional music created a peaceful feeling for the somber occasion, and Mr. Whyte was honored to be a part of that moment.

As I previously mentioned several times throughout this article, Mr. Whyte is an incredibly selfless person who simply wants the best for anybody he knows. Because this trait of his is so prominent when going about his life, he passed it onto his daughter, Layli Whyte. Mr. Whyte mentioned several times that his wife and he became known as “Layli’s parents” due to how much she has accomplished through her altruistic lifestyle and popularity in the community. For example, Layli has worked at the New Jersey Department of Labor, as a stringer for the Hub newspaper, and is currently working with a contractor to help community members find employment. I personally believe Mr. Whyte is not only a role model for his daughter but also for us all. By his example, he encourages everyone to be active, helpful community members.

As the interview came to a close and I sat on my couch thinking back to everything Mr. Whyte had told me, I began to feel slightly overwhelmed. I felt empowered. Not only do I hope and aspire to become someone similar to Mr. Whyte when I grow up, but I hope I am able to deliver Mr. Whyte’s story in such a way that shows the side of him that I got to learn about and understand. As you finish reading this article, I encourage you to scroll back up to the beginning and read that quote from Danny Thomas one more time. Hopefully this time you will understand why I chose this quote to describe Mr. Whyte. If success is measured by what we do for others, then James Whyte is one of the most successful men I know.

Fair Haven, New Jersey