Former Gazette editor David L. White dies, age 79
By Chris Gibbons
Longtime former Royal Gazette editor David L. White died on Saturday morning at his home in Paget following a long illness. He was 79 years old.
Best-known as editor of this newspaper from 1976 to 1998, Mr. White also ranked among the Island's foremost and active patrons of the visual arts as well as one of the leading individual collectors of Bermuda-related works of art.
“David was a colleague, friend and mentor for many years,” said Royal Gazette editorial consultant Tim Hodgson. “He was always mindful of the fact this newspaper had a special obligation to the community it serves — an obligation to not just publish the facts but to publish them with candor, to publish them with clarity and to publish them in the proper perspective.
“He was one of the most courageous individuals I knew, shrinking from no issue and turning away from no antagonist. David routinely encouraged his reporters to pursue subjects that some of the more conservative elements in Bermuda would have preferred the Press turn a willfully blind eye to. These ranged from Pentagon plans to stockpile nuclear weapons at the US bases in Bermuda during the Cold War without the knowledge let alone the assent of the Island's government to the decriminalisation of homosexual activity between consenting adults to a whole raft of environmental matters which came to the fore during the construction boom of the late 1980s and early ‘90s.
“From time to time tremendous pressure was applied to him by vested political or business interests to rein in his reporters or to spike controversial stories they were working on. He never succumbed. His commitment to Press freedoms was absolute and unwavering. So was his loyalty to his staff.”
Mr. Hodgson issued his condolences to Mr. White's family on behalf of the management and staff of The Royal Gazette.
“David was a complex, formidably intelligent and somewhat larger-than-life character,” he said. “But beneath the silken, somewhat theatrical exterior he presented to the world, he was essentially a shy individual – as well as an unreconstructed romantic at heart. And he had a life-long love affair with Bermuda and its people. That affection for the Island and its well-being was reflected not just in the content and direction of The Royal Gazette during his time as editor but in his world-class art collection of Bermuda-related works which he gifted to the Bermuda National Gallery last year.”
The only son of Leslie Arnold White, a self-made man who owned Freeza Fresh Foods, and Stella Hollis, Mr. White was born in Paget on December 15, 1933. He grew up in Paget and later Knapton Hill, when the family moved to Smith's Parish in 1952.
He was educated at Mount St. Agnes Academy in Bermuda and Vermont Academy, Saxton's River, Vermont, receiving the latter's prestigious Florence Sabin Distinguished Alumni Award in 1994.
After graduation from Vermont, Mr. White enrolled at Bard College in Annandale-on Hudson, New York, where his love of the written word flourished and he was actively involved with the college's two publications, The Bardian (as managing editor) and Communitas, serving on the editorial board. He was recognised as a John Bard Scholar and received the Fairbairn Prize, the college's highest academic award, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours in history and political science.
He then studied at the London School of Economics in England, before returning to Bermuda in 1956 to work full-time as a reporter on The Royal Gazette, having worked as a summer intern while a student. In 1967, he became the first Bermudian ever designated as a Commonwealth Press Union Fellow, the Commonwealth's highest educational award for journalists.
He was appointed editor of the weekly Mid-Ocean News in 1968 and by the time he left to become assistant editor of The Royal Gazette in 1973, he had increased the paper's circulation from 2,500 a week to more than 10,000. He succeeded Eric Hopwood as editor of The Royal Gazette in 1976.
During Mr. White's tenure, The Royal Gazette's circulation rose from 10,500 to around 17,000, as it covered some of the most turbulent events in Bermuda's modern history including the 1977 riots, the 1981 general strike and the devastating Hurricane Emily in 1987. He was also in the editor's chair for seven Bermuda general elections. As editor, Mr. White withstood often intense criticism from both Government and Opposition politicians but always backed his reporters and did not back down from defending what he regarded as right.
On his retirement as editor in 1998, politicians from both parties paid tribute to him as a man of conviction and a defender of democratic principles. Indeed, in 1976 he had been awarded the Press Award of Merit by the then Opposition Progressive Labour Party for “his outstanding, objective and meritorious journalistic coverage of the political life of Bermuda”.
He promoted free speech not only thorough the newspaper, but also through the arts as a patron of many different art forms, including painting, writing and theatre.
He was among the key figures in reviving the Bermuda Musical and Dramatic Society (BMDS) in the 1960s, serving for many years as vice-president and chairman of the drama committee and helping to purchase and renovate Daylesford, a house on Dundonald and Washington Streets, which became the Daylesford Theatre.
Although never a serious actor himself — save for some memorable performances as the Dame in Christmas pantomimes — Mr. White directed a number of successful plays, including Tiger At The Gates, A Streetcar Named Desire and The Killing of Sister George. The last was described by playwright Terrence Rattigan, a Bermuda resident at the time, as better than the West End production in London.
He withdrew from active theatre work in 1976 because of his commitments as editor of the Gazette but maintained his interest in the arts as a patron and an astute collector.
He built an extensive collection of historical Bermuda maps but sold it in the 1980s to finance a growing interest in paintings. In 1987 he bought a 1940 painting by the American artist Reynolds Beal of people waiting for the St. David's ferry in St. George's and, in his own words, “I was hooked”. From there he built up an extensive collection of more than 60 impressionist Bermuda landscapes by painters such as Ogden Pleissner, Prosper Senat, Adolph Treidler, and William Chadwick.
In 2009, he published a book about his collection, Cross Currents – Impressions of Bermuda (The David L. White Collection), with proceeds donated to the Bermuda National Gallery (BNG). The collection was featured in a special BNG exhibition, The David L. White Collection, in 2010, and in May 2012, he donated most of the collection — some 62 works — to the Gallery.
Mr. White served as chairman of the Board of Trustees on the BNG from 1997 to 2008, overseeing five Biennial Exhibitions and more than 60 exhibitions that contributed significantly to Bermuda's cultural diversity. He was particularly proud of Light Air and Colour, an exhibition of American Impressionist Paintings; Made in Bermuda; A Window on the Azores; and Living with Art, an exhibition of African-American Art.
As chairman of the BNG's Collections Committee, he helped build the BNG's Permanent Collection and was instrumental in stewarding major gifts to the BNG, including the John Hinson Young II and Nelga Young Collection in 2006.
When the Gallery was first opened in 1992, Mr. White donated several pieces, including an etching by American artist James Whistler and two original 1919 poster designs for the Folies Bergère by the Russian art deco artist Erté. On his retirement, he presented the museum with an oil painting from his own collection by Mary Parker West of Hamilton Harbour (1876), one of the earliest known Bermudian landscapes.
Outside of the arts, Mr. White was vice-president and then president (1993-1996) of the Bermuda National Trust. He spearheaded a successful $6 million fund-raising campaign to help restore Trust properties in St. George's and later served on the Trust's National Advisory Board. He authored the Paget edition of the Trust's acclaimed Architectural Heritage series of books, and edited the editions covering Smith's Parish, Hamilton Parish, Sandys and St. George's. He also served on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for 17 years and was a founding appointee to the National Alcohol and Drug Agency.
He also served as president of the Bermuda TB, Cancer and Health Association.
Twice married and divorced to Americans, Mr. White married Eva LaSalle in 1957 and Sarah Dey in 1972.
Mr. White was made a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1994 for service to journalism and the community, and received the Patron's Award from the Bermuda Arts Council in 2010 for his contribution to the Bermuda National Gallery.
He is survived by former wife Sarah White and daughter Leslie.