Whitley graduated from Phillips High School in 1966 and earned a bachelor's degree in history and secondary education at UAB in 1970. He taught high school history for a year before joining the U.S. Army National Guard. He left teaching to work for a paint distributor, and then was hired as a paint crew superintendent in 1975.
Whitley founded his own firm in 1977, primarily as a painter and restorer of finishes. Soon the company began taking on larger interior remodeling, deck building, repair and decorating jobs involving carpentry and other trades. Among the company's high-profile projects was the Linn-Henley Research Library.
Whitley abruptly closed his business in 2019 and relocated to Tennessee.