Whyte, John Henry (1928–90), academic, was born 30 April 1928 in Penang, Malaya (Malaysia), son of William Henry Whyte, military officer, and Dorothy Gordon Whyte (née Hibbard), daughter of an American industrial metallurgist; he had one sibling, a younger sister. He was educated at Ampleforth (1941–6), gained an open scholarship to Oriel College, Oxford, where he graduated BA (1949) B.Litt. (1951). On completion of his national service, he taught history at Ampleforth (1953–8) and then lectured in history at Makere University College, Uganda, in 1958–61, when he also worked as Ugandan correspondent of The Times. In 1961 Conor Martin (1920–80), professor of ethics and politics at UCD, offered him a position in his department, and Whyte worked there as a lecturer (1961–6). After a phone call from John Charles McQuaid (qv), catholic archbishop of Dublin, Martin forbade Whyte from continuing his research in church-state relations. Whyte resigned and was appointed lecturer in politics at QUB in 1966. Completing a Ph.D. in political science at QUB (1970), he joined the New Ulster Movement, serving as an executive member (1970–73); became reader in political science at QUB (1971); and attended the centre for international affairs at Harvard (1973–4).
In 1975 he was asked to set up a programme, funded by the committee for social science research in Ireland, for research into the Northern Ireland crisis; he was subsequently elected MRIA in 1977. He was awarded a fellowship at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (1979–80) and was later appointed to a personal chair of politics at QUB (1982), before becoming professor of politics at UCD (1983–90). In 1988–90 he became a council member of the RIA, serving as the academy's vice-president in 1989–90. Largely as a result of his publications, he was among the most respected scholars of his generation in Ireland. Among his many works, he published four substantial books: The independent Irish party (1958), Church and state in modern Ireland (1971; revised and enlarged, 1980), Catholics in western democracies (1981), and Interpreting Northern Ireland (1990). His work had a wide academic appeal, exemplified by Church and state in modern Ireland, which not only remains the most comprehensive work on church–state relations in Ireland but was described in the 1970s by F. S. L. Lyons (qv) as the best contribution to the writing of contemporary Irish history. Similarly, his Interpreting Northern Ireland is widely seen as one of the finest works to be published on northern politics. While his Catholics in western democracies was largely overlooked in Ireland, presumably because of its comparative focus, it was probably his most erudite work, combining his skills as historian and political scientist in creating typologies of catholic political behaviour in thirteen democracies over four defined periods from 1790 to recent times and using sources from five European languages. In addition, he published eight substantial articles, seven of which dealt with Northern Ireland, helping him to gain a reputation as a doyen of Northern Ireland studies. He was also acknowledged as a skilled head of department at UCD, where he supervised a reorganisation of the undergraduate curriculum and led his department through a troubled period of financial cuts and simultaneous expansion of student numbers.
Deeply pained by the conflict in Northern Ireland, he was instrumental in developing links between northern and southern political scientists over many years and was a frequent commentator on NI politics for both radio and television in Ireland, Britain, Belgium, and France. His principal childhood residences were in Malaysia (1928–31), London (1931–9), his ancestral estate at Loughbrickland, Co. Down (first granted by the crown to his family in the twelfth century, and which he later inherited), and Rostrevor, Co. Down. He subsequently lived in Ampleforth (both as a pupil and teacher), Oxford, Uganda, Dublin, and Belfast. He married (28 June 1966) Jean Murray, a lecturer in Italian at UCD and daughter of Sean F. Murray of Dublin, a senior civil servant, and his wife Margaret (née Stewart), also a civil servant. While en route to a conference at Airley House, Virginia, he collapsed at Kennedy Airport, New York, was taken to a local hospital, and died there on 16 May 1990. He was survived by his wife, two sons, and one daughter.