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Created by Whittier Trust

Passing the Torch

In the fall of 1929, the iconic and inimitable Orville Wright signed the pilot’s license of Paul Whittier, granting the young man permission to help write the next chapter in the history of flight. 

Paul Whittier’s introduction to flight came as innocently as any future lifetime obsession does, with a bit of curiosity and a chance encounter. When he came across a man in an airfield offering to take passengers up in his Curtiss JN "Jenny" for $5 a tour, Paul asked to be in the air immediately.

When they landed, Paul thanked the pilot and left the airfield. That afternoon, he returned with another $5 and asked to be taken up again.

“You know, it’s also only $5 for a lesson,” the pilot informed Paul, and it only took three lessons before he thought Paul was ready to start taking passengers into the air himself.

“His mind was a steel trap, and he loved being up in the clouds,” remembers his granddaughter, Kim Whittier, proudly. “He easily understood the mechanics of how an airplane worked. He was also a bit of a barnstormer.”

Footage belonging to the California Museum of Flight corroborates favorite barnstorming stories. Paul’s friends and family tell about his involvement in wing-walking stunts, the first generation of airplane-jumping parachutists, and a cross-country air show aimed at convincing President Herbert Hoover to expand the U.S. military’s flying capabilities.

Paul was also involved in the first successful attempts at midair refueling, which initially consisted of dropping a line to a plane at a lower altitude and zipping food, supplies and fuel cans down to the crew attempting to stay in the air for extended periods of time. It wasn’t long before they dropped down a hose from a fuel tank strapped to an old mail plane, a rudimentary rendition of how this is practiced today.

Though he never lost his humility, legacy meant a great deal to Paul and his family. The Whittiers were instrumental in the development of Southern California, finding a fortune in the real estate and resources of what is now Beverly Hills. Recognizing the need for objective management of the estate their father had left to them, Paul and his siblings established Whittier Trust.

As the oldest family office headquartered on the West Coast, Whittier Trust now manages over $20 Billion in assets and works with 578 families. Thanks to Paul and his family, Whittier also retains an emphasis on philanthropy, managing 160 private foundations, donor-advised funds and nonprofit endowments.

It’s fitting that the multifamily office Paul helped to found has earned a reputation for wealth management, helping families transition and steward their wealth between generations. Whittier Trust’s efforts in preserving and growing the legacies of these families mirror Paul’s own work in the legacy of aviation.

That signature from Orville has become the Whittier family’s torch to bear. It’s a calling to do good, to strive for better and to always push against the limits of what we believe is possible.

Topics: People, International Travel, Financing