Man of many hats lived two lifetimes
Times Colonist Staff
On June 3, 1969, John Lennon visited the University of Ottawa for a Give Peace a Chance seminar. David Scott White, a philosophy and history student at the university, attended the seminar with a campus theatre group.
When the theatre group, wearing top hats, presented Lennon with an apple, the Beatle told them he believed they were truly committed to peace.
For 59 years, David Scott White wore many hats — educator, artist, environmentalist, peace activist, musician, horticulturalist, writer and filmmaker. He died suddenly on July 16 of food poisoning.
At his memorial, Jesseca White said that although her father lived only 59 years, through his experiences he lived two lifetimes.
“My experience with David is beyond words,” said Joan Russow, White’s partner for 12 years. “I have lost my deepest love, my dearest friend, my wisest mentor.”
Russow described White as “passionate and principled, wild and adventuresome, and loving, kind and generous — an inspiration to all who knew him.”
Ingmar Lee, a longtime activist now living in India, remembered White’s generosity. He recalled telling White about a kayaking expedition he was planning to take off the West Coast.
When White offered his expensive, high-tech video camera to film the trip, Lee expressed worry that the camera would be damaged. “No problem,” White said. “Just do it!”
“When I returned with hours of shaky footage,” Lee said White made his house, computers and considerable expertise available, and freely donated hundreds of hours to produce the movie, Beyond the Cutting Edge: A Trip to the Primaeval Forests of East Creek, released in 2003.
David Scott White was born to George and Delphine White, on Jan. 20, 1947, in Winnipeg. George was in the Canadian air force while Delphine worked for the federal government, for a time as prime minister John Diefenbaker’s executive assistant.
Ken Rockburn met David in Grade 8 and described White’s slicked-back, “duck’s ass” hair-do.
“He was a character,” Rockburn said. “He was a very brash and sure of himself.” Among friends, White was nicknamed “the hyperbolator.” From 1989 until this year, Rockburn, White, Paul Kyba and Ken Warren gathered on the Island every Victoria Day for what Rockburn described as “five days of argument, cards, sport, cussing, imbibing and general bad deportment.”
After graduating from Hillcrest High School in Toronto, White moved to the nation’s capital to study history and philosophy. At the University of Ottawa, he got pulled into the fervent political atmosphere of the 1960s, volunteering at the campus radio station, editing the student newspaper The Fulcrum and running for the student council presidency, losing to Alan Rock. In 1970, White became the president of Pestalozzi College at the university, and helped develop a 22-storey social-housing project in Ottawa.
After graduating with honours, he moved to B.C. In 1978, a year after the birth of his son, Sol, White graduated in education from the University of Victoria.
White taught English, math, art and social sciences as both a full-time and part-time teacher in B.C. high schools for the next three decades. He was described in a reference letter as a “caring and conscientious teacher and a person who always puts others before himself.”
White also worked actively in education outside of the classroom, helping to organize forums on environmental, social justice and peace issues, and working to introduce environmental materials into the high-school curriculum.
His work in education linked directly to his work in activist politics. White first ran for government in the 1972 federal election, the lone “Garden party” candidate.
In 1994, he met Joan Russow and moved to a home in Oak Bay. In 1996, White ran for the Greens in the B.C. provincial election, garnering 790 votes. A year later, he managed Russow’s election campaign as leader of the federal Green party, and remained active in the party for the five years of Russow’s leadership.
The couple left the party in 2001, disillusioned by, among other factors, the German Green party’s support of the NATO attack on Serbia. Russow and White both joined the NDP in 2003 and White continued his work as an activist until his death, most recently researching and writing against Canada’s military role in Afghanistan.
In 1995, Saturday Night magazine published a picture from 1969, showing John Lennon, Alan Rock and a figure dressed like Mr. Peanut, decked out in a tuxedo and top hat.
The photo inspired White to write a novel examining the 1960s from Mr. Peanut’s point of view, titled The Chronicles of Mr. P and Other Lies, which will be published posthumously.
Island Lives is a weekly series celebrating the lives of Island people who have died recently. The series focuses not on the famous, but on our neighbours who have led interesting lives or made a difference in their communities. If you know of someone whose life should be celebrated, let us know by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail.
David Scott White, above with partner and former Green Party leader Joan Russow, was an educator, artist, environmentalist, peace activist, musician, horticulturalist, writer and filmmaker.
White was active for many years in both the Green and New Democratic parties.