By Rusty Thomas
July 20, 2018: Recently, I was dining alone in a small, off-the-beaten path cafe in New Hope, PA--- a place with quirky charm and the perfect spot for breakfast or lunch while delving into the dailies. After the server took my order the owner/chef motioned me to the kitchen door to asked if she could introduce a friend who was also there. It was an elderly gentlemen and she promised it was not a hookup -- we both chuckled--and that he was an interesting guy who needed some cheering up. A "woodworker" is how she described him. That was an understatement!
I invited Robert Whitley to my table and we proceeded to enter his woodworking world. Because of the proximity to Philadelphia he told wonderful stories of his commissions for reproductions for Independence Hall, Trenton during the Revolution, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Valley Forge, etc, as well as the restoration commissions.
For the next three hours I was pretty much enthralled with the treasures of our country that he'd reproduced. I asked which was the most difficult or the most national and he said the chess set he created as a Presidential gift from the United States to Russian people. That piece I knew about and that Nixon gave it to Brezhnev.
In the parking lot after lunch, he reached into his car to give me a booklet called 'Treasures of Our Nation'. It's all about his talent for our nation and I zeroed in on the center picture of what looked like the White House's HMS Resolute desk! Yes it was! He was the one who created the one for the Kennedy Library! For the next hour he told me about that commission alone and in dealing with the Kennedy Family and JBKO (and yes, we would be proud of her admiration and appreciation for his work.)
I also was fascinated by his story about President Carter allowing him in the Oval to take measurements etc. of the desk for three days while he was away.
My chance encounter with Robert Whitley is one I will always remember.
Image courtesy Kennedy Library.