Chris Whittle, who is 69 now, posing with a trademark bow tie used as a prop for photos at the Whittle reunion. The slogan for the reunion: Sixty is the new 13-30, referring to the original name of the company. (Photo by David Andrews.)
The early 1990s were a challenging time for me. I had just left my job as a newspaper reporter and editor at the now defunct Knoxville Journal (sad story for another day), and I was casting about trying to figure out what to do next.
Fortunately, we had in Knoxville an exciting and innovative company called Whittle Communications which, during the 1980s had produced a slew of pioneering single-advertiser magazines and had entered the TV industry with programs for doctors’ offices and other locations. The most controversial Whittle product was Channel One, a 12-minute newscast targeted to public schools and containing two minutes of advertising for fast food eateries and others.
But, being a print journalist, it was the magazines that interested me most. Because I had covered the company on my paper’s business pages and because I had a large number of friends and acquaintances who worked there, I was able to score freelance writing work at three of the company’s publications. My favorite to write for was Tennessee Illustrated, a beautifully produced monthly statewide magazine.
Chris Whittle posing with some of the 160 former employees who showed up for the reunion.
So when a friend told me recently about a Whittle reunion to be held in Knoxville 22 years after the unpleasant crash and burn of the company, I was excited to attend. Held earlier this month at the Southern Depot, it was organized by Brooks Clark and Margot Kline (working with a committee) and attracted about 160 former Whittle employees (known as Whittle-ites). Most notable was company co-founder, Chris Whittle, who now lives in New York.
To say the reunion was a success would be a tremendous understatement. I often gauge the good-time quotient of an event by the decibel level generated. And trust me, this one was a success. The happiness was palpable as folks poured into the restored train depot and saw co-workers they had not seen in years and sometimes decades.
I only worked for Whittle for a couple of years before concentrating more on public relations and eventually starting Moxley Communications, which later became Moxley Carmichael. But it was a perfect bridge for me as I became a “recovering journalist,” which I still am. I can’t thank Chris Whittle and the editors who hired me during that time enough. It was great seeing you all again.
Bruce McCamish took this shot of those gathered for the Whittle reunion. That’s Chris Whittle in the khakis and blue blazer in the front row.
Chris Whittle mingling during the party.
Chris Whittle, left, with Adam Bellows, the son of two Whittle-ites, Keith Bellows and Shelley Williams, both of whom died on the same weekend this past year.
Steven Friedlander, left, with his girlfriend, Sara Griscom, and Chuck Morris. (Photo by David Andrews.)
Here’s what you saw a lot of during the reunion. This is Tom McCarter and Barbara Roberts.
Tennessee Illustrated. I loved that magazine.
I wrote quite a bit for Best of Business, mostly reviewing business books.
From left, Mary Weaver, Lawrence Woodhull and her sister, Julia Arnett.
Wayne Christensen, left, with John Welsch.
John and Sheila Thigpen with Bill Gubbins, at right.
From left, Jim McKairnes, Doug Renfro, and Phil Hardison.
Sean Plottner, left, and Nick Beres.
From left, Laura Eshbaugh, Ken Smith, Leslie King and Arlene Dove.
Sally Ham Govan and Wayne Christensen. (Photo by David Andrews.)
From left, Jim McKairnes, Mary Weaver and Frank Finn. (Photo by David Andrews.)
Bruce McCamish, right, shows some pictures to Margot Kline and Brooks Clark. (Photo by David Andrews.)
From left, Chris Collins, Richard Beaver, Mike Collins and Chris Whittle. (Photo by Margot Kline.)
David Luttrell, left, with Steven Friedlander. (Photo by David Andrews.)
From left, Sharon Draper, Sara Fortune Rose, Frank Finn, Janine Orr and Dick Stevens. (Photo by David Andrews.)
Lawrence Woodhull, left, with Steven and Lisa Hunt Tally.
Phil and Nancy Reding. (Photo by David Andrews.)
From left, Ron King, Barbara Roberts and Tom McCarter.
Sean Plottner and Diana Reese.
Ron King and Margot Kline.
Jane and James Branson, III.
Brient Mayfield and Tammy Henderson.
From left, Tammi Cole, Lisa Byerley Gary and Dan Fry.
Brooks Clark, left, and Gary Heatherly.
Bruce McCamish and Margot Kline.
Randall and Mary Ellen Duckett with Cindy Prince, at right.
Chris Whittle making remarks. (Photo by Margot Kline.)
Crowd responding. (Photo by Margot Kline.)
Brooks Clark and Margot Kline came up with the idea for the Whittle reunion. “We work at UT and the young people there with their energy and enthusiasm remind us of Whittle,” Clark said. Great, great job, you two. (Photo by David Andrews.)
Click here for a link to a News Sentinel story about the reunion.
Click here for a 1994 New York Times story about the folding of Whittle Communications.
Click here for a story in the Observer about Avenues: The World School, another project Whittle masterminded. Whittle resigned from Avenues last year.
The Whittle folks have made a great impact on Knoxville. I am glad many have stayed.
Agree, Alan. Despite the unfortunate end, the overall impact was so positive.
I’m a bit jealous. I used to say that I must have been the only English major in town who never worked at 13-30 or Whittle. Somehow the timing was never quite right in my arrivals, departures, and career path.
I love the people I know who worked there, & I love what they brought to this town–then and afterwards. The aftermath is perhaps the best example of unintended consequences I’ve ever seen. Unintended consequences are often negative, In this case, there was a positive, creative impact that changed our city forever–for the better.
Very well put, Gay.
Greatest place I’ve ever worked. Hate I missed it.
You would have had a blast, Karen!
Thank you, Cynthia. It was a special night.
My sister and I both worked at Whittle…I was an 18 year veteran, and I have to say those were the best 18 years of my life. I wouldn’t trade one minute of my time there, and I was blessed to have worked with the best of the best people. I was unfortunately sick, and wasn’t able to attend this reunion, but I will absolutely not miss the next one! I say we go ahead and pick a date! I miss you all.
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