William Leon Whitley, Jr. (1904 - 1983)

My great grandfather, Leon Whitley was born on February 1, 1904 in Beaumont, Texas to William Morris Whitley and Rosena Walls Beck. William had one sibling–a sister named Rosalie Whitley, born March 6, 1907. At the age of 15, Leon left Beaumont to join his father on the Southern Pacific Railroad as a cook and changed his name to “William Leon Whitley, Jr.”  

Bill “Daylight” Whitley, as he was known on the railroad, promoted through the ranks to Head Chef by 1925.  He was called “Daylight” Whitley because he worked on the train known as the “Shasta Daylight.” After 20 years of service, William received his final promotion to Instructing Chef and was chosen to help host the delegates to the United Nations Conference held in San Francisco, California. 

Meanwhile, William was also the Editor-in-Chief, of the “Guide Post,” a bi-monthly safety newspaper published by the Dining Car Department of West Oakland. After he retired from 47 years of service, a gala was held in his honor at Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto with Assemblyman Byron Rumford as Master of Ceremonies. As a youth, Assemblyman Rumford had worked as a paperboy and delivered to William’s house.

On March 23, 1923, at the age of 19, William married Nanearl “Eleanor” Whitley affectionately known as “Mutsey,” in New Orleans, Louisiana. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Berkeley, California where they would raise their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  To this union, they bore three children:

  1. Leona Edna Mae Whitley (1924 – 2004)
  2. Coralee Whitley (1925 – )
  3. Gail Herbert Whitley (1935 – )

To his family, William was known as “Daddy Whitley,” “GrandPa” and “Brother-in-law.” William died at home on June 12, 1983.


  1. Information obtained from the oral histories of Leona (Whitley) Williams, Nanearl (Williams) Toussaint-Touson, Melvia (Williams) Smith, Coralee (Williams) Willis-Malone.
  2. Leon Whitley’s delayed birth certificate acquired from the Jefferson County Courthouse:  1 May 1967
  3. Office of Recorder of Births, Marriages, and Deaths – Parish of New Orleans, Marriage certificate of William Whitley and Nanearl Fleming referenced on 2 May 2020.
  4. William Leon Whitley’s funeral program and obituary: 8 Jun 1983
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