Herbert W. Whiteman Jr., who began his professional life as a civil engineer and in 1977 became the first black to be named a vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, died Saturday at Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. He was 61 years old.

The cause of death was heart failure, a spokesman for the New York Fed said.

From his perch in the Florentine limestone fortress in lower Manhattan that is home to the New York Fed, where he specialized in banking technology, Mr. Whiteman remained keenly aware of others whose lives were unfolding in bleaker surroundings nearby.

Long a mentor to dozens of young people who expressed an interest in banking, he was active in pushing the New York Fed to help provide seed capital for various community-development organizations. He also led an effort to have bank officials and employees volunteer as tutors in schools for both students and their parents.

He was an officer in the Amboy Neighborhood Center, a Brooklyn homeless shelter and a vice president of Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration, a community-based organization that provides day care for children, home improvement and other programs for residents.

As a member of the Urban Bankers Coalition, he developed programs to help people navigate the home-buying process. He was also involved in getting banks to work more closely with underserved neighborhoods, contending that this would ultimately result in more business for the banks from the areas they helped transform.

William J. McDonough, the president of the New York Fed, who presented Mr. Whiteman with a ”Banker of the Year” award from the Urban Bankers Coalition last year, recalled Mr. Whiteman’s cheery manner and ever-present wit and said he had been kept aware of pressing social issues through their professional relationship.

”Education and housing are the two things that are absolutely important to making New York thrive,” Mr. McDonough said. ”If a person lives in a decent house and goes to a decent school, then the sky’s the limit.  If I needed reminding of this, there was always this very happy, smiling fellow pushing me in the right direction.”

Mr. Whiteman, a 1964 graduate of the school of engineering at Columbia University, majored in civil engineering but later turned to information systems, a specialty that led him to a job managing International Business Machines’ marketing for banks.
He received a master’s degree from New York University in 1972 and also completed the Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management program. He was named to the New York Fed as vice president for data processing and earlier this year completed a major study of electronic security in banking.