Lettie Pate Whitehead

Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans was a generous philanthropist and accomplished businesswoman. She was the wife of Joseph B. Whitehead, one of the original bottlers of Coca-Cola. At his death, she assumed management of his business affairs, establishing the Whitehead Holding Company and the Whitehead Realty Company and leading the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Atlanta. She also became one of the first female directors of any major U.S. corporation when she was appointed to the board of The Coca-Cola Company in 1934, a position she held for nearly 20 years.

Mrs. Whitehead felt a keen sense of duty to those in need. Bowed by the grief of losing her first husband and two sons, she devoted herself to faith and philanthropy. Tucked in the pages of her personal scrapbook is a quote she lived by: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Mrs. Whitehead gave generously to many charities in Georgia and Virginia and was a trustee of Emory University, Agnes Scott College and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Her benevolence also extended to England and France – she personally supported the Queen’s Fund for air raid victims, furnished ambulances for the French, and served on the board of the American Hospital in Paris.

To those who knew her well, Mrs. Whitehead’s greatest legacy was her genuine concern for others. Atlanta lawyer Hughes Spalding wrote of her, “Great works of Christian charity do not come out of the blue like a stroke of lightning. They require the inspiration of a gentle and guiding hand. They require the tender touch of goodness, implanted in their hearts by a deep sense of obligation to our neighbor and by the love of God. Mrs. Evans makes it her business to go about the world doing good.”
  • 1872

    Letitia “Lettie” Pate is born to Elizabeth Stagg and Cornelius Pate, an enterprising merchant, in Thaxton, Virginia on February 21, 1872. Lettie Pate is raised in the Episcopal Church and privately educated. She exhibits from an early age an inquiring mind and an acute interest in business. During her youth, Lettie Pate lives among elderly female family members of uncertain means. These women lack formal education and struggle financially, observations that later influence Lettie Pate’s charitable giving.

  • 1894

    Lettie Pate marries Joseph Brown Whitehead, a young attorney from Mississippi. The couple settles in Chattanooga, Tennessee and have two sons, Joseph Brown Whitehead Jr. and Conkey Pate Whitehead.

  • 1899

    Joseph B. Whitehead and fellow attorney Benjamin F. Thomas approach Asa Candler, president of The Coca-Cola Company, with a “preposterous idea” – bottling Coca-Cola, which is a popular fountain drink at the time. Mr. Candler unenthusiastically sells to the entrepreneurs for $1 the exclusive rights to bottle and sell Coca-Cola in most of the United States.

  • 1900-1903

    Mr. Whitehead and Mr. Thomas split their bottling enterprise. Mr. Thomas serves the Mid-Atlantic and the East while Mr. Whitehead and his business partner, John T. Lupton, serve the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest. Mr. Whitehead moves his family to Atlanta to further develop his venture. As it prospers, he and Mrs. Whitehead become business, church and community leaders in the city, giving generously to many charitable causes.

  • 1906

    Mr. Whitehead dies of pneumonia at the age of 42, leaving behind his young widow and their 11- and 8-year-old sons. Mrs. Whitehead takes over her husband’s bottling business and his real estate interests, establishing the Whitehead Holding Company and the Whitehead Realty Company to manage the family’s assets. She steers all the businesses to great success.

  • 1913

    Lettie Pate Whitehead remarries a retired Canadian army officer named Colonel Arthur Kelly Evans. They make their home at Malvern Hall in Hot Springs, Virginia, where Mrs. Whitehead becomes active in cultural and civic affairs.

  • 1934

    The Coca-Cola Company, now under the leadership of Robert W. Woodruff, appoints Mrs. Whitehead to its board of directors. She becomes one of the first women in the U.S. to sit on the board of a major corporation. Mr. Woodruff is a good friend and trusted advisor to Mrs. Whitehead in her business and personal affairs.

  • 1935

    Joseph B. Whitehead Jr. dies. In life, he attended Yale University, served in the Naval Intelligence Service during WWI, and engaged in the family’s real estate and Coca-Cola bottling businesses. His will establishes the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation as a memorial to his father.

  • 1940

    Conkey Pate Whitehead dies. He also attended Yale University and served as an officer of the Whitehead Realty Company and other family businesses. Influenced by his parents’ generous example, he provides in his will for the creation of the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation in honor of his mother.

  • 1945

    Mrs. Evans establishes the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation and makes periodic gifts to it until her death in 1953. The Evans Foundation makes grants to education and arts and cultural institutions in Georgia and Virginia, and also supports beneficiaries named in Mrs. Evans’ will. Georgia beneficiaries include Berry College, Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Tallulah Falls School. Virginia beneficiaries include Bath Community Hospital, College of William and Mary Foundation, Episcopal High School, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Virginia Theological Seminary and Washington and Lee University.


  • 1953

    Mrs. Evans dies and leaves her estate to the Evans Foundation. The Coca-Cola Company honors her philanthropic legacy: “During her life, she gave away millions to foster religion and education … by her life and example, Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans made the world a better place in which to live.”