Richard Lawrence White
Richard Lawrence White was born in Cottage Hospital, the fourth of five sons to Harwood and Alex White, in the middle of World War II. He was a big, strapping boy, built like his mother’s tribe, with a physical likeness to his grandfather, sculptor Francois Michel Tonetti.
There’s no good time to be born with special needs. The country and the world were scratching back from the Great Depression and The War. The mood everywhere was to succeed. Not that he lacked physical prowess—-like his brother Gilbert, he had a live arm that could zing a baseball, and a big easy tennis service motion. But killer instinct showed up only in one quarter—-fishing. Richard loved fishing and was good at it.
Richard attended Cold Springs and Crane Schools. Later, he found a better learning environment at Happy Valley School in Ojai, which issued no letter grades, and where hikes, folk dancing and pottery classes with Beatrice Wood supplanted competitive sports. A set of Richard’s plate-ware graced the family’s Sandyland beach house for years thereafter. After Richard contracted rheumatic fever in his Junior year, he moved back home and finished up at Santa Barbara High School.
Surf guru, George Greenough, made Richard his sidekick in middle teen years, fishing and surfing on air mattresses at Sandyland. George’s creative brain was kicking into high gear, and Richard was game to help out. They made headlines one summer catching sharks and bat rays over 200 pounds from those little air mattresses. George and Richard harvested clams aplenty from both slough and beach, and kelp bass from the Carpinteria Reef.
In his late teens Richard worked on the party boats out of Norm’s Landing. Manny Cordero, a local Captain, hired Richard to deck for him on the Santa Barbara Special. It was a life highlight for Richard.
Richard’s most shining hour came in the Coyote Fire, in the fall of 1964. Rich and Alex were at Neroli, the family’s Mountain Drive homestead, when the fire started. Rod, his oldest brother, packed the valuables and decamped from the hill. Rich stayed behind to defend the house. While the fire surrounded Neroli and showered the house with embers, Richard doused spot fires with a garden hose. When the flames got too hot, Rich took shelter in Neroli’s old water tunnel. Houses burned all around, but Neroli was saved.
Richard combined his love for helping people and for the outdoors by serving on the Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue Team in its formative years.
His passion for fishing took Richard offshore in boats large and small. His brother Rod, a legendary fisherman, usually had a spot for Richard whether chasing salmon on the Spiffy 2, or chartering long range for tuna out of San Diego. They made quite a duo. Rod was a perfectionist Ahab, especially when a salmon was writhing on his line. Rod read Richard the riot act for the slightest miscue. The more pressure Richard felt, the more he fumbled. It made for quite a scene. But they persisted for decades. By the way, they landed a hell of a lot of fish.
In the 1980’s Richard earned his black belt in supermarket coupons. He found a Sensei, who took him under wing for weekly raids. Woe be Ralphs and Albertsons, whose marketing departments got lax with their double discounts on ten percent Tuesdays. The pair pounced with L.A. Times coupons gleaned from the Christian Science Reading Room dumpster. Bagfuls of their take landed at the Salvation Army. The thrill was in the hunt.
When it came to tales, Richard was Mountain Drive’s answer to Walter Mitty. He had climbed mountains, trekked wild hinterlands, braved towering seas, and above all, caught record-breaking fish. Some of Rich’s tales were factual. It was up to the listener to figure out which was which.
As his three brothers sought their way in commerce and professional life, Richard was the son who stayed at home. His father long passed away, Richard was Alex’s able body on the hill until her passing in her 82’nd year. Not that his brothers wandered far. Rod and Gilbert built homes on White Hill, and Bendy lived a short mile away. Richard was a helping hand at the many White Family gatherings convened over the decades.
Richard made it possible for Alex to live out her days in the rambling redwood retreat, hosting her legendary dinner gatherings. He watered the half-acre lawn, babied along the century-old water system, and cleaned out the driveway’s drain pipes before each rain. Richard and Alex also kept company with a full menagerie of dogs, cats, bees, chickens, and an occasional chipmunk.
Richard brought the kitties with him after Alex died, and he moved up over the garage. They gave each other solace, if cats need such, and the kitties thrived for many years. Mama cat had catholic litters for several years, until a coyote finally caught up with her. Rich loved those cats as he always did little critters. But he resolutely refused to have another. We always wished another kitty had found its way to his lap.
Rich took particular joy in his funky little patio. He had a single comfortable chair under a bower of greenery. Across from his chair were bird feeders of every sort. He loved to sit and watch the birds at close range, sometimes getting the jays to eat peanuts out of his hand. Rich’s precious cymbidiums marched up the steps to the terrace and down to the garage. He coaxed scores of opulent blooms from his plants. This was Rich when he found peace, where his caring landed with full force.
Rich’s passing closes the book of Neroli on Mountain Drive. He was Neroli’s most durable steward. Over 70 of his years Richard lived right there, outlasting even Alex’s 65-year reign.
Richard left us two years after the Thomas Fire destroyed Neroli. He wasn’t doing so well anyway. But the fire did him in. He never came near recovering.
Richard is survived by his brothers and sisters in law, Dr. Gilbert White and Dorene White, Harwood “Bendy” White and Kathryn Snow; nephews Thayer, Michael, Robert, and Stewart White, and niece Alexa Avila. He is pre-deceased by his brothers Stewart White and Roderick White.
A celebration of Richard’s life is scheduled for 3 pm, February 1, on White Hill.