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Obituaries » Janet Whitehouse

Janet Ketchum Grayson Whitehouse, a long-time resident of the Middleburg area, who for 50 years was at the forefront of the conservation and historic preservation movements, died peacefully at home on Christmas Eve at the age of 87 after suffering from a long illness.

Mrs. Whitehouse had a strong Christian faith, which informed her lifelong devotion to serving others and being a steward of natural and historic resources.

“She was dearly beloved to all of us and was the energy and spirit behind so much of the good that has happened in the Piedmont,” said Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council. “She was a woman of great kindness, dignity and grace, who knew what was right. She never wavered in pursuing what was right, encouraging the rest of us to rise to her level of courage and commitment.”

A master at involving others and energizing efforts on behalf of charitable organizations, she once said of her approach: “Advocacy is a team sport.”

In 1993, in coordination with the PEC and as co-chairman of the Goose Creek Association, Mrs. Whitehouse spearheaded the first meeting — held at Grace Episcopal Church in The Plains — to rally opposition to Disney's proposed theme park near Haymarket.

“The meeting was organized to feel the pulse of opposition within our community,” recalled Childs Burden, president of the Mosby Heritage Area Association. “Well, the pulse was not beating it was racing.” This was the opening salvo in the battle that ultimately led to Disney's abandonment of the project.

In 1995, she co-founded and chaired the Mosby Heritage Area Association, which through its “preservation through education” programs annually teaches more than 5,000 Virginia students about local history. Through its many initiatives, MHAA serves as an advocate for the preservation of historic, cultural, scenic and natural resources of the Northern Virginia Piedmont. Its many educational programs seek to bring an awareness of the significant heritage of this unique area, which in turn leads to an appreciation for its preservation.

Her work in the field of conservation began in the 1960s, working on behalf of the Audubon Naturalist Society, where her first husband William Grayson, served as president. During this time, Mrs. Whitehouse helped to found “Concern,” a women's environmental organization.

She also co-authored the “Living Garden Calendar” in 1970, which gave practical advice about growing plants without the use of chemicals. The calendar was a huge success and was reprinted for many years. Her love of horticulture was reflected in her long commitment to the Fauquier-Loudoun Garden Club (1960-2013) and her work there as conservation chairwoman.

Her love of history was manifested in a 16-year tenure as a director of Stratford Hall — the Lee Family ancestral home near Montross on the Northern Neck — where she was vice president and a member of the executive committee. She also dedicated significant efforts on behalf of Oatlands of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Garden Club of America, the National Gallery of Art and Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville. She worked for two years at the World Wildlife Fund as a projects administrator and development officer in the early 1980s.

Mrs. Whitehouse was born June 5, 1926, in Pittsburgh, the daughter of George and Thelma Patton Ketchum. She was a 1943 graduate of Chatham Hall and earned a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College in 1946. In 1949, she joined the State Department’s Office of Intelligence Research as a political analyst for Belgium and Luxembourg.

In April 1951, she married William Cabell Grayson, program director for NBC, Washington, and later special coordinator for telecommunications for the Smithsonian Institution, and president and chairman of the Audubon Naturalist Society. He died in April 1980.

Together they worked on preserving the C&O Canal, and in opposition to Potomac River dams and the Salem Church dam. They also helped spearhead funding for studies leading to the Virginia Scenic Rivers Act, the founding of the Conservation Council of Virginia, and support of the Virginia Outdoors Plan.

They also wrote “Raising Wood Ducks in Captivity” and gave the National Zoo its first wood ducks.

In October 1984, she married Charles S. Whitehouse, a Yale classmate and friend of her first husband, who served as ambassador to Laos and Thailand in the 1970s. He was the first Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict in the Reagan administration, and later was chairman of the Piedmont Environmental Council when it opposed Disney’s planned theme park development. He died in June 2001.

Mrs. Whitehouse often said that she had "the two happiest marriages one could ever have.” She shared both of her husbands’ devotion to conservation, and her care of them during illnesses was inspirational.

Mrs. Whitehouse is survived by three children, William Cabell Grayson Jr. and wife Susan of Upperville; Katherine Grayson Wilkins and husband Fraser Bryan of Washington, D.C., and George Grayson of Upperville; three stepchildren, Sheldon Whitehouse and wife Sandra of Newport, R.I.; Charles R. Whitehouse of Malibu, Calif., and Sarah Whitehouse Atkins of Newport, R.I.; five grandchildren, Paul Cabell Grayson, William Cabell Grayson III, William Fraser Wilkins, Torrey Grayson Wilkins and Emily Payne Wilkins, and five step grandchildren, Virginia Atkins, Helen Atkins, Charles Atkins, Mary “Molly” Whitehouse and Alexander Whitehouse.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Mosby Heritage Area Association (designated to “Janet Grayson Whitehouse Fund”) or the Piedmont Environmental Council.
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