John Wighton, 63, adviser to mayor, college president

May 10, 2000|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

John L. Wighton, who advised a mayor and a college president, and held a variety of high-profile jobs in education, government and management, died Friday at Sinai Hospital after a long struggle with emphysema. He was 63.

A native of New York City, Mr. Wighton served in the Marine Corps from 1954 to 1957. He then studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and subsequently graduated from the American Theatre Wing in New York City. He acted in professional and amateur theater for several years.

Mr. Wighton earned a bachelor's degree in English at what was then Towson State College in 1973 and later pursued postgraduate studies in business management at Loyola College in Baltimore and Catholic University in Washington.

In the early 1970s, while he was studying at Towson, Mr. Wighton met James L. Fisher, then the Towson president.

"We'd had the Kent State-Jackson State killings, and all hell was breaking loose," recalled Dr. Fisher.

"The students wanted me to shut down the college in protest. I thought we should remain open, but I did agree to let a spokesman for a student group make the case to the Academic Senate. The guy they chose was John Wighton.

"I was taken by his presentation and his presence. He was a brilliant speaker and writer. I came to know him, and we became very close."

Mr. Wighton lost that argument, but Dr. Fisher eventually hired him as his adviser. He also was director of development and assistant/associate vice president of institutional advancement at Towson.

Mr. Wighton later was vice president for development and college relations at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va.

He returned to Baltimore in the mid-1970s and held various positions in local government. He was director of central services for Baltimore County and a special assistant to Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, who referred to Mr. Wighton as "Junior."

In 1982, Mr. Wighton founded a communications and management firm, Charles Street Associates, and spent 10 successful years in marketing, fund raising and public relations.

Mr. Wighton was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1994 and underwent surgery to remove part of a lung. He begged people who knew of his illness not to tell others, Dr. Fisher said, adding, "He was so prideful, he didn't want to talk about it."

"I have never known a truer friend. He was Shakespearean in experience and nature. You had the feeling he would kill for you if necessary," Dr. Fisher said.

A sports enthusiast, Mr. Wighton enjoyed tennis, basketball and running. Until weeks before he died, he was a regular in a twice-monthly poker game.

Memorial services will be private.

Mr. Wighton is survived by his wife, Sandra, of Baltimore; a son, Dr. Robert L. Wighton of Farmingdale, N.Y.; two daughters, Jeanne L. Rucker of Lawrenceville, Ga., and Juliet B. Hauswald of Baltimore; and six grandchildren.

Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 43025 Baltimore 21236-0025.

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