Man of many hats lived two life­times

Times Colonist - - Life - BY MARCO URSI

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 fea­ 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.

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