Scotty Whitelaw, 88, former ECAC commissioner
To his role as commissioner of the Eastern College Athletic Conference, Scotty Whitelaw brought a varied background that included competing as a multisport athlete at Springfield College, serving as a coach and assistant athletic director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and stints as the ECAC’s assistant and associate commissioner.
“It gave him a great perspective,” said former Harvard University hockey coach and athletic director Bill Cleary. “Scotty had a nice demeanor and listened to everyone, but once he made up his mind, he was firm in his decisions.”
While Mr. Whitelaw was commissioner from 1972 to ’89, the ECAC added about 50 colleges and universities. He was instrumental in establishing championship tournaments for women’s sports and four regional Division 1 men’s basketball tournaments that were NCAA qualifiers.
An inaugural inductee into the ECAC Hall of Fame last year and a mentor to athletic administrators and conference staff, Mr. Whitelaw died of a cerebral hemorrhage April 2 in Doctors Hospital in Sarasota, Fla., the community where he spent the past 19 winters. He was 88 and had lived in East Sandwich after the ECAC offices relocated to Centerville 42 years ago.
“Aside from the president of the NCAA, Scotty was probably the most important person affiliated with college athletics in the country,” said Jack Grinold, a close friend and Northeastern University associate athletic director emeritus. “When Scotty walked into a room, he already knew half the people there, and by the end of the evening he made it a point to know the other half.”
Mr. Whitelaw “was a tireless crusader for collegiate athletics, always looking to provide positive experiences for all involved,” said a statement from the ECAC, which relocated to Danbury, Conn., in 2014.
Through his tenure he worked to ensure that his entire constituency played roles within the ECAC. In 1978, he told the Globe that although major independent institutions and Ivy League colleges had controlled the conference for many years, its membership “was rather broad and diversified and they were not getting proper representation on the various committees.”
He was pleased at the time that the conference’s committees and council were made up of individuals from all three NCAA divisions who had equal opportunity to express their concerns.
Mr. Whitelaw also established the conference’s Asa Bushnell internship program, a steppingstone for future athletic administrators, including current Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna.
“Scotty was my first mentor who wasn’t a parent or a coach,” said Bertagna, a former ECAC hockey commissioner. “He enjoyed putting groups of people together and solving problems, but never with a heavy hand or loud voice. His phone calls over the years meant the world to me.”
Former ECAC assistant commissioner John Garner said that when he started in 1986, “Scotty introduced me to the movers and shakers in intercollegiate athletics.” Garner added that almost no one “knew more people in his or her profession than Scotty.”
Mr. Whitelaw, whose responsibilities also included assignments of game officials, television negotiations, member services, and eligibility requirements, played a prominent role in the ECAC’s move from New York City to Centerville.
Along with Bill Flynn, the late Boston College athletic director and ECAC president, he arranged for the purchase of Four Winds, an estate near Craigville Beach. It was renamed the Asa S. Bushnell Center in memory of the ECAC founding commissioner who hired Mr. Whitelaw in 1960.
Garner recalled that the first executive committee meeting he attended included “dinner at the Paddock restaurant, a clambake at the Hyannisport Club, and concert tickets to Peter, Paul, and Mary at the Melody Tent. That was Scotty’s way of making sure that after a long workday, college athletic directors were made to feel welcome and had time to relax.”
Robert M. Whitelaw was a three-sport athlete at North Quincy High School, graduating in 1945. He was class treasurer, a member of the prom committee and yearbook staff, and was named best senior male all-around student and athlete. His yearbook described him as a “dazzling” quarterback whose 5-yard touchdown run enabled North Quincy to defeat archrival Quincy on Thanksgiving Day.
After serving with the Navy Reserve, he enrolled at Springfield College, where he was the safety on the football team, center fielder on the baseball team, and the New England 600-yard track champion. An inductee to the college’s athletic hall of fame, he graduated in 1950 with an accelerated master’s degree in physical education.
He passed along his love of sports and being near the water to his three daughters and his late son, Scott, all of whom participated in college swimming or gymnastics.
Mr. Whitelaw’s home on a promontory at Scorton Creek was a popular gathering place for family, friends, and colleagues. At the Hyannisport Club, his home away from home, he was once a single-digit handicap golfer and was a senior club champion who shot his age last year. In Sarasota, he was a member at the Meadows Country Club.
Mr. Whitelaw often spent time at the Hyannisport Club with Jack Riley, the former 1960 US Olympic and US Military Academy hockey coach who died in February. “They often played together at Hyannisport’s member-guest tournaments,” said Riley’s son Jay. “Scotty was a great friend, someone you could count on.”
Mr. Whitelaw was executive director of the National Invitational basketball tournament and a founder of the Eastern Massachusetts chapter of the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame.
The ECAC Sportsmanship Award was established in his name and the Scotty Whitelaw Cup is presented to the ECAC Division 1 hockey tournament champion. The conference’s Division 3 football playoffs include the Scotty Whitelaw Bowl.
“He wanted the ECAC to be like family, not a corporation,” said his daughter Kim Drake, an associate director for the ESPN network who lives in Simsbury, Conn. “Our dad never bragged about his accomplishments and he was a great role model for his children and grandchildren.”
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Whitelaw leaves his wife, the former Shirley Rich, whom he married in 1953; two other daughters, Andrea Fleckles of Sandwich and Karen Hall of New Boston, N.H.; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. June 5 in West Parish Church in West Barnstable.
Mr. Whitelaw was “an innovative athletics administrator ahead of his time, and revered among his colleagues,” ECAC president Kevin McGinniss said in a statement.
“He was just a regular guy, a great guy,” former Boston University sports information director Ed Carpenter said. “It was never ‘commissioner’ or ‘Mr. Whitelaw,’ but always Scotty. He was the ideal person for a job he truly loved.”