In Memory of




Obituary for Robert B. Whittlesey

Robert B. Whittlesey, a nationally-recognized advocate and visionary in the campaign for affordable housing, died this past Monday, Feb 27, at his home in Acton, Massachusetts. He was 101 years old. A widower the past nine years, he was happily married to the former Louise Allen for seventy years. He is survived by his five children, nine grandchildren, and a great-grandaughter.

Whittlesey was the driving force behind the creation of three organizations that have become major forces in the not-for-profit housing world. The first, South End Community Development, grew into The Community Builders, which has thus far created over thirty thousand affordable apartments and homes. The second, the Boston Housing Partnership, now known as Metro Boston Housing, is Massachusetts’ largest provider of rental housing voucher assistance and works to ensure that the region’s low- and moderate-income individuals and families have choice and mobility in finding and retaining decent affordable housing. The third, the Housing Partnership Network, is an award-winning business collaborative of over 100 of the nation’s leading housing and community development organizations. Whittlesey also served for five years as the court-appointed Master of the Boston Housing Authority. In his later years, up to the age of 100, he served as the Chairman of the Acton Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.

“Bob Whittlesey showed us how government, non-profit organizations, and the housing industry can make a real difference in the lives of our people,” said former Governor Michael Dukakis. “Much of our success in housing in the Bay State was the result of his leadership.”

“He is the Pete Seeger of affordable housing,” said Langley Keyes of MIT. “The heart and soul of a movement that has impacted American life for the past half century.”

“He stands as an iconic figure in the state’s storied affordable housing history,” noted MBHP Executive Director Chris Norris at his organization’s Founders Celebration.

Whittlesey grew up during The Great Depression, determined to follow in the footsteps of a pair of uncles who were stalwarts of the Progressive Movement. His father was a Professor of Politics at Princeton Univerisity and Whittlesey enrolled there as a member of the Class of 1943. His studies were interrupted when he enlisted in the Army to fight in World War II, eventually seeing action in the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war, he returned to Princeton to complete his BA with honors and earn a Masters in Civil Engineering. He then spent ten years learning the construction business as a project manager for the national firm of George A. Fuller Construction. Anxious to work in the not-for-profit sector, he enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate program in City Planning. After graduating, he took a position with a Washington D.C. non-profit. Four years later he was recruited to come to Boston and create South End Community Development.