In any community, there is a small group of men and women who truly make a difference. Through a combination of commitment, intelligence and humanity, they make the place better. Calvin Wheatley was a member of that select group.
I first met Calvin some 25 years ago. I had an idea and a plan for a multiservice center for youth — one-stop shopping for a range of health, social, vocational, cultural and recreational programs. The single-center approach made great sense for the Virgin Islands because there were so few available resources for young people, a situation that persists today.
In shopping the idea around, I encountered three groups, probably the same three groups you would find anywhere in similar circumstances.
The first group were the blank stares, the "never heard of anything like that before."
Group 2 included those whose response was some version of "great idea; good luck."
In group 3 were those who said "Yes, we need this; what can we do?" In my experience, group 3 had only two members, the late Wilburn Smith and Calvin Wheatley. They made the Youth Multiservice Center and many other good things happen that otherwise would not have come to be.
Calvin and Wilburn were in many ways as different as day and night.
There are many hand-wringers in the world, usually sending you the message that they would like to help, but it is really hopeless. Wilburn would wring his enormous hands in frustration because things were not happening fast enough and the lives of young Virgin Islanders were being wasted.
Calvin was different. When I would present him with my most recent "you won't believe this" story, he would get that little twinkle in his eye, the twinkle that said "don't worry; we'll figure this out" and begin to think through alternatives.
You didn't have to spend any time trying to figure out if Calvin was on the right side of an issue. He always was. At the same time, he was never judgmental about those who were on the "wrong side." He was always looking for a solution rather than someone to blame. And then he would bring his encyclopedic knowledge of the territory and his great intelligence to bear on whatever the problem was and "suggest" that "I would do it this way," or or that you "go see … " The thought that one might reject any of his "suggestions" never occurred to me — nor, I am sure, to many other people, especially when the intelligence behind it was linked to that twinkle.
Because Calvin did not blow his own horn or seek credit, it is almost certain that his great contributions to the community, however they are recognized, will be understated. I am sure that my story is just one of many about this extraordinary man who was on the right side and knew how to get things done to make people's lives better.
Editor's note: Management consultant Frank Schneiger has worked with V.I. agencies since 1975, most recently as consultant to United Way of St. Thomas/St. John. He was one of the founders of the St. Thomas/St. John Youth Multiservice Center.
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