Philip Wilheit stands in front of Brenau University's Pearce Auditorium

By the community, for the community

When Philip Wilheit headed off to college, it never occurred to him not to come back to his beloved Gainesville.

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Wilheit moved with his family to Gainesville in 1949 when he was only four years old. He says that growing up in Gainesville was like growing up in Mayberry, a reference to The Andy Griffith Show of the ’60s. “I could pick up the phone and be connected directly to my mother who worked at the Gainesville Times,” he says. “Many of my friends went off to college and never came back. When I left for Sewanee (University of the South), it never occurred to me not to come back to Gainesville.”

Between his junior and senior years of college, Wilheit traveled to Europe. While he says he really enjoyed the culture, it was his future wife, Mary Hart Wilheit, he met on the first night of the cruise at the bar that changed his life. “Fortunately for me, two of her chaperones liked me,” he says. “I must admit that I ended up experiencing a lot more culture during those two and a half months than I anticipated, but I loved every minute of it.” Today, they both remain active in the community. They have two married children and four grandchildren.

After college, Wilheit joined the company founded by his father, Wilheit Packaging, where he has worked for over 50 years. He had the benefit of knowing the business from the warehouse to the boardroom, having served in delivery, purchasing, sales and management. Today he serves as president and managing partner. Under his leadership and adroit grasp of business, Wilheit Packaging’s annual revenues have increased from $250,000 in 1966 to more than $75 million in annual revenue today.

Wilheit’s business acumen translates well to his community engagement as he approaches both with a keen commitment to learn and master the details that combine for a successful whole. He has served on Brenau University’s Board of Trustees for more than three decades, 14 of those years taking on the extra duties as vice chairman. He also has served on dozens of boards, commissions and committees including the Georgia Chamber of Commerce for over 20 years, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, Northeast Georgia Health System and, as chairman, the Gainesville-Hall County Development Authority all for over 40 years. He has served on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents since 2011, where he is a former chairman.

“Philip’s dedication, commitment and love for Georgia, the Gainesville community and especially Brenau University have had an impact that will shape and guide these communities for generations to come,” says longtime friend and fellow Brenau board member Jim Walters. “Only in America would you find someone like Philip who consistently engages his passion, his intellect and his resources for the greater good of all. He is the kind of person you want in your foxhole when trouble breaks out.”

This past spring, Wilheit retired from Brenau’s board, having worked with three different presidents. Because of his contributions over the years, he received the board’s highest honor of trustee emeritus.

Former longtime board chair Pete Miller says, “Philip’s tenure alone would qualify him for trustee emeritus, but time in service is not a sufficient credential for such an honor. I always knew I could depend on Philip to do his homework, keep his fingernails sufficiently dirty and ask the tough questions, leaving many of us wondering why we had not thought about a particular issue, yet grateful he did. The board will miss Philip’s pursuit of excellence and most importantly, his insight and wisdom. His stewardship made a difference, and Brenau is far better off for his presence. I am confident that both Philip and Mary Hart will continue to be a part of the Brenau family for many years to come.”

Ever the community advocate, Wilheit is especially pleased with Brenau’s investment in the health sciences and the downtown community. “The health sciences are going to be an integral part of Brenau’s future,” he says. “And with much of it located at Brenau’s Downtown Center, it also helps fuel our local economy.”

Wilheit is proud of his time on the board and of Brenau’s progress. He’s confident in the university’s future.

“Brenau is most fortunate to have strong board members, many of them from the local community, as well as great presidents,” Wilheit says. “(President Emeritus) Jack Burd was the right person at the right time. He did a great job of stabilizing the finances of the school and increasing its endowment. (President Emeritus) Ed Schrader had a knack for recognizing an opportunity and acting on it.”

Wilheit says he’s equally impressed with current president Anne Skleder. “She has such a great demeanor and collaborative approach,” he says. “She’s doing a fantastic job of meeting the right people, even in these trying circumstances. I really admire her collaborative approach, especially as she does a great job of keeping her board members engaged and informed. I believe that under her leadership, Brenau University will continue to grow and prosper.”

Skleder says she is so pleased that Wilheit will continue to be a part of the Brenau family. “Philip and his family are a treasure for the Brenau and greater community,” she says. “He told me the first time I sat down to listen and learn from him that he would always answer the phone if I called him, and he already has kept this promise. I am so grateful for his contributions and passion for Brenau and our community.”

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