Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley
“In everything, diligently pursue excellence,” advised Jack Robert Wheatley. This was advice he lived by. Hard work, high expectations, and dependence on the Lord—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 was a proven formula for success. “Weigh success not in gain but in improvements to the world,” counseled Jack.
Jack and Mary Lois’s greatest joys were their family and the gospel of Jesus Christ. They reared six children, have thirty-four grandchildren, and fifty-six great-grandchildren. The Wheatleys 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.
Jack was born in Pocatello, Idaho and spent his early years 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 helped him to earn a coveted nomination to West Point while taking classes at what is now Idaho State University.
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 were 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. After graduating from West Point and being commissioned in the United States Army, Jack served a tour of duty in Korea. Upon his return, he and Mary Lois were married in the Salt Lake Temple.
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 workforce. 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 and 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 of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In 1967, Jack was elected to the Palo Alto City Council 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 for the Church. This calling helped Jack and Mary Lois to gain 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. This legacy continues today through the scholarships they have provided for individual students and several universities.
The couple’s association with Brigham Young University goes back to at least 1973. It has been one of the Wheatley's long-term endeavors to beautify the BYU campus. Jack said his attention to landscaping detail was the philosophy of a builder blessed with an artistic wife. He was 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 led BYU’s landmark Lighting the Way capital campaign in the 1990s and served for many years as co-chair of the BYU President’s Leadership Council. Under Jack's leadership, this council was vital in envisioning and facilitating the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center.
The Wheatleys will be remembered through their ongoing legacy and through their posterity continuing the work of charity.