Natchez native, Alexandria zoo director dies

Published 11:24 pm Monday, August 18, 2008

NATCHEZ — A Natchez native known for his musical ability and for his work at the Alexandria Zoo since the 1970s died Saturday.

Leslie Whitt, 56,who was the director of the Alexandria Zoo from 1974 until the time of his death, died of heart complications at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans.

Aside from his duties at the zoo, from which he had a close association with noted animal expert Jack Hanna, Whitt was an accomplished keyboard player who played with the likes of B.B. King and B.B. Major at the Jazz and Heritage Festival. Locally, he was a member of the 1970s-era band My Generation.

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For Natchezian Sandra Doherty, whose late brother played in the band with Whitt, he was like a second brother.

“Leslie was just an amazing, giving person, and he would do anything for anybody,” she said.

The recipient of a donated heart in 1994, Whitt took that opportunity to live life with all of the gusto he could, Doherty said.

“I really believe he gave his all in his last 14 years,” she said. “He was very grateful to have a second chance.”

That zeal carried over to his work at the zoo.

“He gave his 200 percent at whatever he did,” Doherty said. “He absolutely built that zoo to what it is today.”

Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy said in a statement the city lost a real asset with Whitt’s death, and described him as “the paragon of selfless action for his fellow man.”

“In addition to losing the indispensable leader of the city’s most recognized quality-of-life institution, artists and musicians lost a true friend and fellow professional,” Roy said.

Whitt’s wake will be from 4 to 9 p.m. today and from 9 to 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Riverfront Convention Center, in Alexandria. A memorial service will follow at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the convention center.

Whitt will be buried after a graveside service at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Greenlawn Cemetery.