Thomas Ray Whitesell passed away peacefully, in his home surrounded by loved ones on January 25, 2023. He was born June 15, 1941 in Kingston, Pennsylvania. Son to James P. and F. Louise Whitesell (both deceased), he is survived by his loving wife of 59 years, Deborah King Whitesell, and his children Evan Whitesell Heitzman (Thomas), Tracey Elizabeth Whitesell (Terrance) and James King Whitesell (Anna). He loved his six grandchildren, Thomas, Christopher, Elizabeth, Michael, Clayton and Rory. He is also survived by his sister, Susan Hillman (David).
Tom led a full and adventurous life. As a child, he lived for seven years with his family in Caracas, Venezuela where his father and grandfather led contracted efforts to build oil company housing and infrastructure. Upon completion of this project, the family moved back to the United States and settled in Palmyra, NJ. The Riverton elementary school is where Tom met the love of his life, Deborah, and many life-long friends.
The foundations for Whitesell Construction were laid out in the early 1950’s which saw 12-year old Tom learning to build houses alongside his father and grandfather in Cinnaminson, NJ, many of which were around the Riverton Country Club. The business was a family affair operating out of the Whitesell household, which included his mother who oversaw company bookkeeping and administration. As a young man, Tom worked on the projects when not in school, splitting the time between his father’s construction business and a joy in his life which was playing football.
Tom looked fondly upon his memories of playing football at Palmyra High School, Valley Forge Military Academy, and Temple University. His talent on the field landed him a football scholarship to Temple University where he played for the Owls for two years before heeding the call to return home to help run the family business full-time. When Tom was 23, he subsequently bought his father out of the construction business and started Whitesell Construction Co., Inc.
Tom initially operated the business as a residential and commercial contractor developing and selling properties in Burlington County; however, within several years, he discontinued residential construction and focused instead on building commercial and industrial facilities. Tom developed master-planned business parks to appeal to the business community and local municipalities. Award-winning projects would eventually take place in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester Counties, King of Prussia, and Bucks County. During its prime development days in the mid-1980’s, Whitesell's staff grew to exceed over 550 personnel, performing all phases of development and management. All told, the company eventually developed over 250 commercial buildings and 20 million square feet of office, industrial, and retail properties throughout the Delaware Valley, including ten corporate campuses in southern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania over the past six decades. Today, the Whitesell organization remains the largest privately owned commercial real estate firm in southern New Jersey.
Tom loved his employees and considered them family. It was this culture that became ingrained into the business and was one of the pillars in its success. His care also extended deeply into the community where Tom served on a number of business, civic, and charitable boards over his lifetime including Cooper Hospital, the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, Oaks Integrated Care, Burlington County College, Burlington County Council of Boy Scouts of America, and Burlington County Bank.
Tom and his wife Debbie were avid travelers. They enjoyed adventurous vacations throughout North and South America, Antarctica, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Caribbean. Tom also loved flying, time on his boats, and was always eager to include friends and family wherever he went.
Tom and Debbie spent over 20 years living in Palm Beach, Florida before they moved to North Palm Beach. Many beautiful family memories include fishing, boating and big family dinners, were created in their idyllic home.
Along with his hard work ethic and drive, Tom was known for his remarkable creativity and vision. This vision extended into one of Tom’s greatest prides - his farm in Moorestown, NJ. There, he and Debbie spent many years breeding race horses and later providing facilities for the care and rehabilitation of retired race horses, as well as creating a beautiful nature refuge of trees, gardens and walking paths. At various times, Tom might also have been found donning his white apiary suit, tending to his beehives and harvesting honey.
While Tom was known for his business ventures and his various hobbies, he was also a generous philanthropist. His desire to help anybody in need was embedded into the fiber of who he was. He truly felt a passion and calling to help people. He could be found preparing his farm for large fundraisers or traveling to foreign countries to help build hospitals for children awaiting surgery. No cause was too small and no challenge too big - if a person was in crisis or need, he was always ready to lend a hand and help out. He will be greatly missed by his family and friends.
Gifts in Tom’s memory may be made to Oakes Integrated Care, Urban Promise or Operation Smile.Current News|Archived News