The Virgin Islands community is advised of the passing of Reuben B. Wheatley on Feb. 4, 2021, at St. Thomas’ Schneider Hospital. He was 95 years of age, and he led an active life until weeks before his death.
Reuben lived through and played an important role in the transition of the U.S. Virgin Islands from an impoverished island possession of the United States, bought from Denmark less than a decade before he was born. World War II initiated the emergence of the islands into the modern world. The pace of progress accelerated when a company of Virgin Islanders, drafted into the U.S. Army, trained together on the mainland and served together in Hawaii in World War II. Reuben was one of several Virgin Islanders who later rose to prominence back home who honed their leadership skills as non-commissioned officers of that company. Serving in the U.S. Army alongside his fellow Virgin Islanders and attaining the rank of first sergeant remained a point of pride throughout his life.
With the help of the GI Bill, he earned a degree in accounting at Rider College in New Jersey, and returned home to the Tax Division of the government of the Virgin Islands where he became director, then assistant commissioner and commissioner of Finance throughout the Paiewonsky Administration. He worked with Gov. Ralph Paiewonsky on the establishment of the V.I. Bureau of Internal Revenue, as well as upgrading the relationship with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
Another important chapter in Reuben’s life opened in 1977 when he was asked to become the founding president and CEO of Aero Virgin Islands, a regional airline flying the iconic, reliable, DC-3 aircraft. Aero VI overcame a host of challenges for 12 years until it was overwhelmed by the destruction of its aircraft by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Since that time, Reuben continued to work daily as a consultant, using his management and tax skills. For the last 10 years, as president of Wheatley Realty Corporation, he supervised the operations of the Wheatley Center. He never stopped working.
Reuben will be remembered by his family and friends for his love of gardening on most Sundays, as an avid Yankees baseball fan, for his physical and mental strength, someone who read constantly on a number of different topics, and most importantly as someone who loved his family. Work for Reuben was more than just a vocation; it kept his mind sharp, was a point of pride, and supported his family, no matter the sacrifice. It is no exaggeration to say that Reuben will be missed by many people, in and away from the Virgin Islands.
Reuben is survived by his wife, Juel Wheatley; by their four sons: Russell, Paul Byron, Torrance and Bertram; his granddaughter, Ayana; great-grandson, Josiah; stepdaughters: Marie and Yvette; his step-granddaughter, Christine; step-grandson, Ajay; and two step-great-grandsons: Gabriel and Noah.
He was the ninth of 10 siblings, the children of Anna C. and O. S. Wheatley, among whom, his brother, Henry, is now the sole survivor. Also surviving are numerous nieces and nephews.