Melba Whatley

The self-proclaimed troublemaker paving the way to a thoughtful urban future

The self-proclaimed troublemaker paving the way to a thoughtful urban future

Austin Photo Set: News_influentials_melba whatley_jan 2013
Melba Whatley Photo by Jessica Pages

Editor’s note: CultureMap is proud to introduce a new series called The Influentials, in which we profile the people who help to shape the City of Austin. 

Melba Whatley has become the public-facing figurehead for the redevelopment of Waller Creek as a nationally renowned urban park.

A love of architecture and creatively intelligent use of public space has landed Whatley in countless positions of advocacy for art and design, be they on the board of the Dallas Museum of Art, St. Edwards University, the Marcus Foundation or the Downtown Austin Alliance and, most recently, in the role of President of the Waller Creek Conservancy.

"I'm sure the reason I floated across the vision of [Mayor Pro Tem] Sheryl Cole was because I've always had this deep passion about parks. We've done so much in this city for open space that it's absolutely the right thing to do to simultaneously start thinking about the urban life, because we are essentially an urban place. If there's no respite and no place to go with a family or no place to watch a tree in bloom, we have deeply lost something."

In every role she takes on, including that of her own investment company, Whatley wields graciousness, quick wit and a conversation-starting pair of glasses — all characteristics that, when coupled with her "cumulative experience,” establish her as an enchanting leader able to galvanize Austin’s creative and cerebral.

What is your chief characteristic?

My husband says tenacity, but I know it's troublemaker.

Your idea of misery?

Being inside all day.

Your idea of happiness?

An old Greek definition of happiness: The exercise of vital functions along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope. 

Your pet peeve?

Pretentious people who give Greek definitions of happiness. But I memorized it when I was 20 — the only thing I remember from being 20.

Who else would you be?

The dog Hector who lives at our house: beloved, patient, loyal and true. And, besides, he had the most presents under the tree this year.

What is your motto?

Slow and steady wins the race. Although, I am fast and famously impatient.

Who are your heroes?

Norman McClean, who in old age wrote the brilliant Young Men and Fire.