Natchitoches resident Tom Whitehead received a prestigious statewide honor last Thursday night when he was among seven people recognized as 2022 Louisiana Legends by the Friends of Louisiana Public Broadcasting.
The annual black tie ceremony at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge was televised live on LPB, as it has been for over three decades.
Whitehead was recognized primarily for his pivotal role as the leading expert on Clementine Hunter, the iconic Natchitoches Parish folk artist whose work has attained worldwide acclaim. Also spotlighted was Whitehead’s impactful career as a journalism professor and university leader in 30 years at his alma mater.
He has worked on documentaries and co-authored and edited books about Hunter. Whitehead has traveled around the country and even internationally as a speaker and consultant on Hunter and her remarkable art.
He was the key prosecution witness in a case of forgery of Hunter’s art investigated by the FBI, resulting in that agency creating an art forgery division.
He is active in local historic preservation organizations and served on the Louisiana Film and Video Commission, the board of directors of Friends of Louisiana Public Broadcasting and the national advisory council of Kappa Alpha Order social fraternity.
Whitehead is a member of the local Friends of Louisiana Sports and History (FLASH), the support group for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum. He is a member of the National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and the Honor Society of Phi Eta Sigma.
Whitehead was as an associate professor of journalism and director of International Programs. He served as an advisor for various student media, providing training to students preparing for a professional career. He also oversaw the university’s Distinguished Lecture Series, which brought numerous prominent national figures to campus.
A strong advocate for preserving Northwestern State’s history, Whitehead co-authored the book “Northwestern State University at 125” which was published in 2009. He led efforts to make the university’s past more accessible through its Traditions website, which showcases digital collections of the university’s student newspaper, yearbook and alumni magazine and information on alumni honorees, past presidents and historic campus buildings.
Whitehead worked as a production location consultant for the film “Steel Magnolias.” He also worked as a local contact and executive assistant to the film’s producer Ray Stark. Whitehead was a co-author of the “Steel Magnolias Scrapbook.”
Whitehead last fall was enshrined in the Long Purple Line at Northwestern, the university’s alumni hall of distinction. Recently, he was named to the newly formed Greek Life Hall of Fame 100 For 100 list recognizing remarkable figures in the first century of fraternity and sorority activity at NSU.
Since retiring from NSU, he was worked as a governmental affairs and special events consultant.
Whitehead and six other 2022 recipients joined a prestigious list of 149 past Louisiana Legends that includes Academy and Grammy Award winners, star athletes, Pulitzer Prize winners, esteemed dignitaries, including the current United States Ambassador to the United Nations. The Louisiana Legends are selected each year by the Friends of LPB Louisiana Legends Board Committee, comprised of volunteer representatives from around the state.
Among the others recognized Thursday night was another NSU alumnus, Val Marmillion, who has been a key advocate of wetlands restoration through his public relations firm and related activities. Retired LSU baseball coach Paul Maineri was another recipient, along with retired LPB president and on-air host Beth Courtney.
Natchitoches resident Cathy Reed Seymour is the chairperson of the Friends of LPB Legends board.
Among other local figures previously recognized as Louisiana Legends are Joe Dumars, Dr. Julian Bailes, Jimmy Long and Robert Harling.