by Virginia Whitehead Breeze
William Massie Whitehead was born in Lovingston, Virginia, October 21, 1905, the fifth of seven children in a family that had lived in Virginia for many generations. He was graduated from the University of Virginia Medical School in 1931. Interested in travel and adventure, he moved west to intern under Dr. James Tate Mason at the Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. He then joined the American Mail Line as a ship’s physician, traveling to China, Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines. In 1934, he moved to Wrangell, Alaska, where a small medical practice had opened.
Dorothy Helene Johnson was born in Sultan, Washington, September 30, 1910, to Mark and Gudrun Helene Johnson. The family, including a younger daughter, Marjorie, moved to Wrangell in 1915. Mark Johnson was a sawyer. Helene Johnson was a tailor, writer, and community activist. She served on the Wrangell School Board, was president of the territorial Tuberculosis Association, ran for mayor, and came to Juneau during World War II to work for the Office of Price Administration. For many years the Johnsons owned the Wrangell Laundry. When they retired, they moved to Juneau. Mark Johnson died in 1955; Helene, in 1965. They are buried in the Pioneers’ Plot in Evergreen Cemetery.
Dorothy Johnson was graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Whitman College in 1933, with a degree in economics. She earned a teacher’s certificate at the University of Washington, and was teaching school in Wrangell when Dr. Whitehead arrived there to practice medicine. They were married September 23, 1934, in Wrangell’s St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church.
In August 1935, the Whiteheads moved to Juneau, where Dr. Whitehead took over the practice of the late Dr. W. J. B. McAuliffe. In 1936, Dr. Whitehead formed the Juneau Clinic partnership with Drs. W. W. Council, C. C. Carter and W. P. Blanton. That partnership, with various other physicians as members, continued until 1965.
Over the years, the Whiteheads were participants in local and statewide community and professional activities. Dr. Whitehead served as secretary of the Territorial and Alaska State Board of Medical Examiners for 23 years. He was a member of several medical associations and first president of the Juneau Medical Society. He was appointed by Governor William Egan in 1959, to serve as chair of the first State Judicial Council. He was a member of the State House of Representatives from 1963 - 1965 and a member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents at the time of his death. He served for 14 years as a member of the Territorial Board of Education. He was a charter member of the Juneau Rotary Club, serving as president of that organization, and twice as president of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.
The Whitehead and Johnson families were active in the affairs of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Dr. Whitehead served on the vestry for many years and Dorothy Whitehead, in the Altar Guild. Dorothy was also active in a number of community organizations, and at the time of her death, was a member of the local hospital board.
The Whiteheads’ greatest enjoyment, however, was their family and their cabin on Lena Beach, where Dr. Whitehead raised a profusion of flowers and vegetables. Steeped in Southern farm life tradition, he insisted on planting corn in his beach garden each spring although it grew only a few inches high.
The Whiteheads during their years in Juneau reared five children: Virginia, Page, Stuart, Suellen and Anne. Suellen died in 1989. Virginia lives in Juneau.
Bill Whitehead died in 1966; Dorothy Whitehead and her sister, Marjorie Sharnbroich, died in an automobile accident in 1971. The Whiteheads are buried in Evergreen Cemetery beside the Johnson parents.
Numerous tributes have been written about the Whiteheads, but perhaps the finest was inscribed on a plaque that hangs outdoors on the classroom building named in their honor at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau:
“This first classroom building of the Juneau-Douglas Community College, University of Alaska, is dedicated to the memory of William Massie Whitehead, M.D., 1905-1966, Juneau physician, civic leader, legislator and a member of the University Board of Regents, and to the memory of his wife, Dorothy Johnson Whitehead, 1910-1971, daughter of Alaskan pioneers, mother of five children and a helpmate, always.”
William Whitehead c. 1935
Dorothy Whitehead c. 1935
Bill and Dorothy Whitehead, London, 1966.
Helene and Mark Johnson c. 1935