“In everything, diligently pursue excellence,” advises Jack Robert Wheatley. It is advice he lives by. Hard work, high expectations, and dependence on the Lord – these traits, and the support of his late wife, Mary Lois Cannon Sharp Wheatley – have shaped Jack’s life. Mary Lois’s maxim for life was to find your special gift and use it to the best of your ability to help others. Together, theirs is a proven formula for success. “Weigh success not in gain but in improvements to the world,” counsels Jack.
Jack and Mary Lois’s greatest joys are their family and the gospel of Jesus Christ. They reared six children, have twenty-nine grandchildren, and eleven great-grandchildren. The Wheatleys have served two full-time missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, one as mission president in Denver and the other in Portugal. Their faith and example have blessed thousands – beginning, and most importantly, at home.
Born in Pocatello, Idaho, Jack’s early years were spent in Robin, where his parents’ family of five children constituted a significant portion of the tiny farming community’s population. Jack, the youngest of Michael and Maude Agnus Wheatley’s children, was best friends with his brothers and was adored by his only sister. From his father, Jack learned to work, to complete every project begun, and to never complain. From his mother, he gained a lifelong love of learning. These attributes earned the freshman at what is now Idaho State University a coveted nomination to West Point.
Mary Lois was born and reared in Salt Lake City, the second of Ira and Lois Sharp’s four children. Her childhood was filled with family and friends. Her mother loved art and music and made everything around her beautiful. Her father was a practical man, deeply devoted to his family. Love of beauty, practicality, and devotion are traits Mary Lois sought for and brought to her own family. She was always an artist and continued to paint throughout her life. Portraits of family members were her specialty. In 1948 she graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Utah before going on to continue her art studies in New York.
The couple met in New York City in 1949 when Jack was a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point and Mary Lois was studying at the prestigious Art Students League. The Big Apple was a long way from their Mormon heritage and Mountain West upbringing. After graduating from West Point and being commissioned in the United States Army, Jack served at tour of duty in Korea. Upon his return he and Mary Lois were married in the Salt Lake Temple. On April 11, 2012, they celebrated 60 years of marriage.
Jack was an engineering officer in the army when he and Mary Lois wed. He was stationed at Fort Belvoir near Alexandria, Virginia. After eighteen months they moved to the Army Corps of Engineers District Office in Kansas City, Missouri. A year later Jack and Mary Lois decided it would be best for their family for Jack to enter the civilian work force. Because of his experience with the Army corps of Engineers, Jack wanted to build buildings, and while the family lived in Salt Lake City he worked with a local construction company. This association led him to northern California where he started a construction company as well as a real estate development company.
Jack built homes, schools, commercial buildings, office buildings, and buildings on the campuses of Stanford University and San Jose State University. In 1963, in partnership with his former Salt Lake City employers, Jack’s construction company was awarded the contract to build the Oakland California Temple for the Church.
A commitment to improving his community led Jack to seek election to the Palo Alto City Council. He was elected in 1967 and served for three years before he was voted by his fellow councilmen to fill a one-year term as mayor.
In 1978 he was called to preside over the Colorado Denver Mission of the Church. Serving in this calling Jack and Mary Lois gained greater compassion and understanding for people from all walks of life. They increasingly expressed their love for others through their philanthropic support of young people and educational institutions. They continue to provide individual scholarships for students and several universities.
The couple’s association with Brigham Young University goes back to at least 1973. Increasing the beauty of the BYU campus is a long-term endeavor for the Wheatleys. Jack says his attention to landscaping detail is the philosophy of a builder blessed with an artistic wife. He is known to some as the “tree man” because thousands of trees have been planted on campus in the past thirty years, thanks in large part to Jack and Mary Lois.
The Wheatleys were instrumental in the construction, planning, and initial art collection of the BYU Museum of Art. Opening in 1993, the museum reflects the Wheatleys’ commitment to excellence in its design, detail, and holdings. In 2001 they assisted BYU in acquiring the Carl Bloch masterpiece Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda as the museum’s signature work. Jack’s involvement continues to this day as a member of the Museum of Art Leadership Council.
Jack led BYU’s landmark Lighting the Way capital campaign in the 1990s and currently co-chairs the BYU President’s Leadership Council. Among other accomplishments, this council under Jack’s leadership has been vital in envisioning and facilitating the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center.