Roderick Alexander White
Rod White had a wonderful life anchored in Santa Barbara. He was handsome, bright, gregarious, and a formidable athlete. He was a loving husband to Maryke, his wife of 52 years, who preceded him in death by three months. He doted on their two sons Michael and Robert. Rod lived his entire life on White Hill, atop Montecito. For thirty years he owned Rod’s Boat Yard at the Harbor, and for a number of years, Rod’s Marine Sales at the bottom of State Street.
Rod was Santa Barbara’s consummate outdoorsman. As often as he could—-and it was often—Rod was off to hunt or fish. Ducks he loved most. Salmon was a close second. If you had fur, feathers, or scales, you hoped that Rod was not in your area code.
He was born at Cottage Hospital in the roaring twenties and raised in Montecito during the Great Depression. Rod’s parents were momentous, often conflicting personalities, and he was a chip off of their block.
Montecito was a different place then: more rural and sparsely populated. From grade school years on, free time found Rod and his brother Stewart packing a sandwich and bee-bee gun and traipsing the Montecito foothills.
Rod was an apt student at local public schools, then the Webb School in Claremont. He attended Stanford University till the Korean War interrupted his Doctoral studies in Education. He enlisted in the Air Force and finished Officers Training School just as hostilities ended.
Back in Santa Barbara, he began his 6-year career as an English teacher and tennis coach at Santa Barbara Junior High and High Schools. This was Rod’s hip cat era. He loved hot jazz, and Mai Tais, and cut a dashing swath in his black Thunderbird.
On the outdoor front, he gained renown as a free-diving spear fisherman. He was invited to tag along with the world’s best divers on a nautical safari to the Caribbean. Rod outdid his cohorts, bagging a world record.
Soon thereafter, his father’s death added new responsibilities to Rod’s life. At 26, he pitched in to help his mother manage the household, including three younger brothers.
At this juncture Rod changed careers from teacher to businessman, with the core of his career at the Boat Yard. His entrepreneurial spirit took him in interesting directions. He led partnerships which built and managed the Harbor’s Marine Center, as well as an office building in Solvang. He owned and ran the Mesa’s last functioning oil well, a Rube Goldberg contraption powered by a 1934 Ford.
About then he met, fell in love with, and married Maryke Neumann. He found a woman who was not just beautiful, but earthy, fiercely loyal, and, like him, FUNNY. Very soon, the children came. Rod’s precious sons Michael and Robert inherited the predatory gene. They were his protégés, hunting partners, and beloved friends.
Rod’s growing family moved into larger quarters at the bottom of White Hill. No sooner were they settled than the Coyote Fire burned them out. Rod rallied from the loss and built their new home on a site with a spectacular view of the Channel Islands, harbor, and the tree-fringed coast.
Rod and Maryke were inveterate putterers. Their fruit trees produced bumper crops, and cymbidiums did exactly what they were supposed to. Rod was never happier than when the leaf blower was invented.
Their home was a treasure to share. They concocted gatherings that ranged from casual to elegant. When Mike or Robert, or preferably, Mike AND Robert, came home for a visit, there was cause for a get-together involving slow-roasted hunks of game and a sauté of halibut caught that day.
Rod interrupted his outdoor activities enough to play some excellent golf. He captured a den full of trophies to accompany the mounts of a 3-point buck, massive elk antlers, and a 43-pound lake trout.
He was uniquely privileged to have friends truly for a lifetime. He went trout fishing with his Cold Springs School classmate, John Felix for nearly seventy years. Al “Q’ser” Spaulding, Harold Acquistapace, the Thornburgh brothers, and Dave Basham were but a few of the native sons he met as a kid, and who shared their lives here with him in community and friendship.
Rod had a strong sense of the ridiculous. He also had a rubber face. Even a few months before he died, he complained he couldn’t remember something that had happened that morning: “I look inside my head, and…” He bugged his eyes and stuck out his tongue in a cross between Salvador Dali and Jonathan Winters. Funny.
He spent his last decade in poor health. Despite his frailties, Rod rallied each day to go out to lunch. Specifically, to Harry’s Plaza Cafe. Clam Chowder, cole slaw, and a diet coke.
On his last day, Victor, his caregiver, took Rod to Harry’s. Rod flirted with Maudie and bantered with Dave. They drove home, as every day, along Shoreline Drive and down to his beloved Harbor. They checked for commercial boats unloading their catch and took in a whiff of sea air. Then back out, with a wave to Kirby and Fred, elder statesmen of the waterfront, perched like herons along the alley.
That day, as with Rod’s life, was a reminder that you don’t need to go afield to seek life’s treasures. He found them in the people he loved and the place where he lived for his entire 84 years.
Rod is survived his sons Michael and Robert; brothers Gilbert, Richard, and Harwood “Bendy” White; sister in law Elsbeth del Pero; brother in law Ferdinand “Andy” Neumann; sisters in law Kathy Snow, Dorene White, and Yvonne Neumann; nephews and nieces Billy and Greg Gerard, Emilie and Tarek Neumann, Thayer and Stewart White, and Alexa Avila.
A celebration of Rod’s life will be held at the family home, 960 E. Mountain Drive, on Sunday, April 28, at 2 pm.