Beyond The Game

Horseshoes to golf to bowling, sporty memories of my father-in-law, Hank

Dr. Henry White was beloved, respected by those he touched in professional, personal life
By Ken Waltz | Nov 03, 2018
Dr. Henry Oliver White

Rockland — In nearly 60 years of life's incredibly amazing, but often difficult, journey, hundreds of wonderful people have found their way into my existence and I am a better human being for it.

And, sometimes by luck, fate or chance, one meets a person and develops, over time, a deep respect and admiration, which, in turn, helps bond a lasting friendship.

Dr. Henry White, my father-in-law, was such a man.

Hank died on Sept. 15 after 90 extraordinary years — 33 of which were, in some small way, used to make a profound impact on my life.

Hank, father of my lovely wife of 31 years, Sarah, was what one would call "old school." He was tough, demanding, stubborn and outspoken — many times, for example, he insisted, using his beautiful bass and tenor voice, for me to take my baseball cap off when indoors.

He was a perfectionist. He did not suffer fools gladly. He gave and demanded excellence.

But, under all that tough, gruff exterior was an incredibly intelligent, caring and giving man, who spent much of his life trying to use science and his medical training to figure out how to keep the sick and injured healthy — and to give them a chance for a longer, better quality of life.

While I hold my "utmost respect card" for my mother, the late Margaret Helen Kimball, the most giving person I have ever known (she was the single most inspirational human being in my life and had the greatest impact on who I became), Hank is among the top few.

It is in my personality to ask why. To seek answers from the known to the unknown. And no one bore the brunt of my inquisitive nature — my reporter's makeup, if you will — more than Hank.

In our weekly family gatherings, I would ask — some might say interrogate — Hank on his life, work and all things medical. He was patient, humble, kind and thoughtful with each answer, even when I did not understand the medical lingo. He often dumbed down his explanation for me. And not once did he ever not answer one of my probing inquiries.

While most Midcoast residents knew Hank as "Doc White" for his amazing, often life-saving surgical work at a number of hospitals — the stories he told of receiving clams, lobsters or berries from hard-working Midcoast folks who could not afford to pay for his service were heartwarming — Hank had another side.

While not a guy who talked sports 24-7 like some — finger pointed directly at me — Hank enjoyed many athletic activities.

His love of sailing was more a way of life and not a competition — although, his sons, Stephen, Jonathan and Bruce, and daughter, Sarah, on the other hand, loved to race. He enjoyed every second on the water, from his childhood in the summer on Martha's Vineyard to his decades living in Camden. He was a member of the Camden Yacht Club from the early 1960s until his death in 2018.

He once owned an historic Friendship Sloop, the "Sarah Mead," named for his daughter, my wife.

As a youngster, Hank excelled in formation horseback riding — and over the years, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes were must-watch television events — and playing baseball. He even participated in men's softball in Camden back in the day.

A southpaw, Hank experienced some of his greatest joys on the tennis court. He was a skilled player, who could put incredible spin on the ball and had a tough serve. He played many doubles matches with his wife, Marian, at the Megunticook Golf Club and continued to enjoy the game during his many winters spent in Venice, Fla.

He enjoyed time on the court so much that once he completely blew out one of his sneakers during a friendly match but refused to stop. He just kept playing with a flat tire. Simply for his love of the game.

While his true passions were music and singing, Hank also could spend hours watching tennis on television. He never missed the French Open, U.S. Open or Wimbledon broadcasts and always had a few choice words for a player or a controversial call.

Although not a golfer, he did watch golf on television and while he only played a few times, he once indulged me and his good friend, Stan Catell, by playing in a fundraising tournament at the Samoset Resort Golf Club.

In that tourney, Hank, far from an expert of the game, did what I am sure only a professional could — if someone gave them many attempts. Hank hit a bad shot that had an utterly amazing outcome.

He stood on the tee box, set his driver behind the ball and took a mighty swing. He finished his swing and put his hand to his forehead to shield his eyes from the sun. He took a second to glance down the fairway to watch the flight of the ball. Then, seemingly, in a blink of an eye, he quickly looked above his head just in time to stick his hand out to catch the ball. That he had just hit. Straight up.

I am not sure anyone could do that — on purpose — if given 100 chances. But Hank did it. We laughed so hard we cried. It is a moment we talked about many times and one that will stick with me until the day I die.

Thank you, Hank.

As a competitor looking for a game of any kind — billiards, ping pong or even shuffleboard — I enjoyed hours playing horseshoes with Hank. He built a nice set of pits, with the wooden boxes and real sand, near the apple tree in the upper yard at his home on Harden Avenue in Camden.

We had hundreds of amazing back-and-forth competitions on those pits. While I am a more traditional thrower of the shoe, where it travels end-over-end and comes down on the pole or slides through the sand with the open end hopefully wrapping around the metal pin.

Hank, a left-hander, used a more interesting method. He had a "curve," so to speak, on his shoe. It would come in from the side and hook the pole, spin around it and stay on for a ringer.

He was tough to beat, but it sure was fun trying to take him down. We used to top each other's ringers over and over and laugh out loud at our good fortune — and "friendly" competitive fire.

Later when life's struggles conspired to hold him back, Hank still would come out in the yard and we would play corn hole. It was no longer regulation horseshoes with the heavy metal shoes to toss, but we would modify the corn hole boards (put them closer together) and play. And he still had a dead-eye with that left-handed toss, as he often put it in the hole.

Thank you, Hank.

Hank always was brutally honest and never held back with his responses. I once asked him how, after being a slender young man, I could shed many extra pounds accumulated through middle age, and effectively lose weight. I expected deep medical-based wisdom. But no. Hank looked me in the eyes and said: "Eat less."

Point taken. Thank you, Hank.

Hank also enjoyed to bowl, ten pin, or the "big balls." In fact, the only time I ever bowled the "big balls" (I grew up with the Maine tradition of candlepin bowling) was with Hank and his friends at the old Camden Area YMCA on Chestnut Street. It was a blast and quality time spent with the man and his buddies.

Hank, born the year before the "Great Depression" and a teenager during World War II, always received the newspaper and often read and commented on my stories and columns. He even followed my progress from week to week with my National Football League picks each fall.

He liked to tell me that I had a bad week and needed to pick up my game.

Point taken. Thank you, Hank.

Hank, whose memorial service and celebration of life will be on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 11 a.m. at the First Congregational Church in Camden, loved college football and watching the Boston Red Sox. We often would commensurate after a tough Sox loss.

And he never held back his disdain for a poor performance by the Beantown nine. Of course, he had a lot longer history with the Sox — he watched Ted Williams play, for example — and had suffered for many more years and accumulated added bad memories to gripe about.

Had he lived longer, we would have had a lot to talk about with this year's historic 119-win, World Series championship team. That would have been another fun, memorable moment with the man that my son, Brandon, at age six or seven, asked me: "Whose older, dad, you or Grampy."

I miss my "older" mentor and friend.

As my eyes mist over with sadness and reflection, I recall a man who gave me guidance, support and hell, if needed. But, best of all, he gave me more wonderful memories than he will ever know.

I just wish I could tell him, one more time, thank you, Hank, for all you meant to me and so many others.

It was an honor to have known you, Dr. Henry Oliver White.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Peter Root | Nov 05, 2018 12:04

Ken, You could not have written a better tribute to a man such as your father in law was. You truly hit the nail right on the head with all of your stories about him. He certainly was a great man and a great friend of my parents. My condolences to you and Sarah and  your mother in law on the loss of  a truly great guy.


Posted by: Joyce Elaine Cooley | Nov 03, 2018 17:22

What a beautiful tribute to such a remarkable man. He truly was a gifted surgeon with a great bedside manner.  The Midcoast was blessed having him in our midst.  May he Rest In Peace.

Posted by: Helen Plourd | Nov 03, 2018 08:24

Exemplary doctor who saved my husband's life. Hoping our future doctors will be more clinical and not monetary like Dr. White. A doctor we all can be proud of that saved so many lives.

Posted by: GLENNA DRINKWATER | Nov 02, 2018 23:25

What a great Man. You have said it all. So sorry

If you wish to comment, please login.