A friend who knows my admiration for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of our state (RI), generously passed on to me this memoir written by the Senator’s father, C.S. Whitehouse.
Mr. Whitehouse, Charles, or Charlie, is not a profoundly gifted writer (and he is over-fond of using exclamation points), but his talent is sufficient to achieve his purpose. He states that he “prepared” Then and Now “to give to my children and grandchildren some idea of the world I was brought up in…” He completed his work in 2000; it was released shortly after his death in 2001. The book appears to have been privately printed, with a press of a mere 2,000 units. This type of publication was once known as “vanity press,” but there is nothing vain about Mr. Whitehouse.
Not prone to deep reflection, at least not here, the story unfolds in a “and then this happened” manner. But oh, my, the “this” is fascinating.
C.S. Whitehouse was born in 1921 in Paris to a family of tremendous wealth, the level of which ordinary folk have can barely fathom. His life was one of multiple homes, including mansions and plantation, in New York, in Florida, in Newport, of a household full of servants, of fox hunts and frequent world travel, of friendships with well-known British and American upper class families. Yet C.S. Whitehouse lived by the dictum in Luke 12:48, ” For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” His entire adult life was one of service.
Charlie Whitehouse left Yale after his sophomore year to serve in the Armed Forces during World War II (He returned after the war to complete his degree), becoming a dive bomber in the Marines. After the war, he worked for the CIA, stationed in Brussels, Congo, Istanbul, and Cambodia. He later became a Foreign Service Officer, posted to South Africa, Washington D.C., and Guinea, and as civilian director of pacification in Vietnam for two tours of duty. He then served as Ambassador to Laos, and lastly, Thailand. In 1988, he was recruited by Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci to serve in that department as “Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict,” his last position in a lifetime of service to his country.
Early chapters telling of his ancestors is stilted in tone, but Mr. Whitehouse finds his footing writing about later years. His strongest chapters are of his time in WWII and in Vietnam. A hallmark of this slim (183 pages) autobiography is the praise that he heaps on the many people with whom he worked.
One of C.S. Whitehouse’s lifelong passion is hunting: fox, pheasant, quail, big game. Those passages were difficult to read and the photos hard to look at.
Fully aware that the world into which he was born no longer exists, he chose well the title of his memoir. Then and Now,” as he concludes, gives “the flavor of the world in which I lived so that readers will reflect on the difference between “then” and “now.”
I am happy to shelve Mr. Whitehouse’s memoir with my collection of books on Rhode Island and its history.
(Then and Now book is aesthetically pleasing, with a cloth cover featuring a reproduction of a painting of, El Destino plantation, his family’s beloved home in Florida, high quality paper and classic, elegant type, Garamond, I believe).