W. Floyd Whitfield was a self-made man who bought and sold thousands of acres throughout the Lowcountry, but he is more known for living a simple life, friends said.
"I think every day for lunch he had a peanut butter sandwich," said longtime friend North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, adding that the successful businessman was always quick to share.
Whifield, president of The Whitfield Co., died Saturday. He was 89.
“He was a really neat gentleman,” said Summey, who knew Whitfield for more than 30 years. “We had a relationship that was built primarily around old cars. He was an old car buff and so am I.”
The two often spent time at a warehouse where Whitfield stores about 25 old cars, Summey said.
The jewel of Whitfield’s collection were two 1940 Chevrolets.
“The reason that had a lot of meaning to him was that he used to take his wife to Chicora High School when they were dating in a ‘40 Chevrolet,” Summey said.
Whifield was married for 69 years to Shirley Davis Whitfield.
“He was a self-made, wealthy man,” Summey said. “There wasn’t anything left to him or given to him. He did it on his own.”
After a start working for the railroad, Whitfield became a land broker and developer. Among The Whitfield Co.’s holdings are 132 acres along Dorchester Road in Dorchester County, 981 acres at Nexton in Berkeley County and more than 100 acres on S.C. Highway 61 in the Ashley River Historic District, according to property records.
The scenic West Ashley tract landed Whitfield in the news in recent months as North Charleston reached across the Ashley River to annex the site, which includes the Whitfield family-owned Runnymede Plantation event venue and abuts Magnolia Plantation & Gardens.
Whitfield followed that up by giving the city an acre on the other side of Highway 61, where the city may one day build a fire station or police substation, according to Summey. The move opened the door for North Charleston to annex a 2,200-acre tract owned by Whitfield Construction, whose principal is Whitfield’s son, Tim.
In a statement in December, Floyd Whitfield said the family had asked North Charleston to annex the land “in response to the threatened actions by the city of Charleston to annex our property involuntarily and without discussing it with us.”
The turf war between Charleston and North Charleston is the subject of an ongoing court case.
“He honestly had a good life,” Summey said of his friend. “He was just somebody that was interesting to know and the longer you knew him, the more respect you developed for him. He’s the type of guy you could sit down and just have a normal conversation with, and it was like an educational experience.
“I learned from him to put priorities in proper order: God, family, friends, work,” Summey said.
Whitfield was also very generous, friends said. Among his passions was Charleston Southern University, where he served on the Board of Trustees for two decades.
“He was part of the search committee that hired me 34 years ago,” said Jairy C. Hunter Jr., now president emeritus at the school. “I’ve been very good friends and personal friends with him and his family ever since.”
The Whitfields’ financial support to the university includes the Whitfield Stadium Center, the Whitfield Center for Christian Leadership, the Singleton Baseball Complex and the health science building.
“As history would show, Mr. Whitfield was very successful in his business transactions, I think because he was a strong Christian and believed that everything he did should honor God,” Hunter said. “He was his own person in that he listened and learned from everyone and was certainly polite and courteous, but at the end of the day, he made his own decisions.”
Whitfield and his wife, who was instrumental in establishing the CSU Women’s Council, established years ago the W. Floyd Whitfield Endowed Scholarship, which will continue to provide financial support for students for years to come, Hunter said.
“It’s quite a legacy, to share your resources and your success with others, but that’s the Whitfields’ kind of unselfish attitude,” Hunter said.
In addition to his involvement with Charleston Southern, Whitfield was a Coast Guard veteran, a longtime deacon of Grace on the Ashley Baptist Church, and a member of the executive board of Star Gospel Mission.