WATERTOWN, NY — We lost a true gentleman and fine representative of the “greatest generation” when Roger W. White Sr. passed away July 6, 2020, at the age of 96. Many consider him a legend due to his unique approaches to problem solving and calm in the face of disaster.
Roger was born July 11, 1923, in New York City. He was adopted 11 months later by Ralph L. and Maude T. White and brought to Watertown where he lived out his life. Roger had an active mind, energetic body and ‘can do’ attitude which led him to many adventures and outrageous pranks. He was usually accompanied by like-minded neighborhood buds who would become his lifelong friends. Roger loved a large array of outdoor activities, but especially enjoyed skiing, sailing and duck hunting.
From a young age, Roger was an avid reader and always had a book nearby. He loved learning and had a large breadth of knowledge, but had little interest in the confines of traditional education. When the local attempts at schooling weren’t successful, he was sent to Vermont Academy. He loved his time there, especially flying through the air as a member of the varsity ski jumping team.
Upon graduation, he returned to Watertown to work at the family business G.W. White and Son Lumber and Building Supplies under the tutelage of his father and grandfather.
During World War II, Roger served in the United States Coast Guard patrolling the North Atlantic for German U-boats. This service strengthened his love of water, boats, and wild weather.
After the war, he returned to Watertown and continued his career in the family lumber business. He fell in love with a local girl, MaryEtta Montgomery, and married in 1950. They had five children in nine years and life was a whirlwind. He worked extremely hard providing for his family financially, while instilling in his children a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility. Yet, life was not all work.
Roger was a founding member of the Hickory Point Hunting Club, Past Commodore of the Crescent Yacht Club in Chaumont, and was a fixture at Snow Ridge timing youth ski races in the 60s and 70s. Sundays were always spent outdoors with family skiing, sailing or duck hunting depending on the season.
One of the biggest delights of his life was time spent on Carleton Island in Cape Vincent. First duck hunting with his dear friends at the Hickory Point Club and later at a family cottage. He made his last trip to the island at age 96. He was always checking in to make sure “The island hadn’t moved”.
G.W. White and Son (White’s Lumber) was much more than a job to Roger. He expanded the business to locations in Gouverneur in 1967, and Pulaski in 1969. Roger took great pride in working alongside four of his children and watching them make the business flourish. He confidently handed over the reins in the 1990s. Even after his “retirement” he could be found talking with customers and keeping an eye on things into his early 90s. Roger’s ability to approach problems in unique ways and customer-focused approach continues to propel White’s Lumber into its 128th year of business and fifth generation of family management.
As a life-long resident of Watertown, Roger served his community on the boards of Key Bank, Jefferson County Historical Society, and Chairman of the United Way annual drive. Professionally, he served on the board of directors of North Counties Supply and the Lumberman’s Merchandising Corporation.
As Roger aged and his body slowed down, he found new ways to satisfy his sense of adventure. He bought a fire engine red MG convertible, obtained his private pilot’s license in his late 60s, and bought a 30’ sailboat that he and MaryEtta could handle. In 1998, MaryEtta passed after 48 years of marriage. That winter, at age 75, he put his grief behind him and joined his family skiing in British Columbia.
Roger’s large heart found room for new love. He met Barbara Hanrahan who also had endless energy and love of adventures and fun. They married in 2000 and enjoyed many years together before declining health intervened.
The final years of his life were spent under the dedicated and loving care of Helping Hands LLC. This remarkable group of women made sure he continued to live a full life from the comfort of his home overlooking the Black River. Even at his advanced age, they agree, that he helped them as much as they helped him.
He will always be remembered for his wisdom, dignity, huge smile and twinkle in his beautiful blue eyes. As his four-year-old great grandson said “Great-Granpa, Great-Life”.
Roger is survived by his wife, Barbara Hanrahan; children, Bradford A. (Carol) White, Roger Jr. “Ted” (Joan) White, Jonathan L. (Heather) White, Sarah (Maurice) Cleaver; all of Watertown, NY, and Harriett “Het” M. (Stephen) Sabo, New Philadelphia, OH; grandchildren, Dr. Erinn White, Bradford A. White Jr., Allison, Matthew and Patrick Cleaver, Dr. Emily, Stephan and Graham Sabo, Jonathan White Jr., Jason, Justin and Christopher Stowell; great-grandsons, Bennett and Maxwell McNabb.
Arrangements are through Cleveland Funeral Home.
Due to Covid-19 there will be a private family funeral which will be live streamed and available through www.watertownfirstpres.org/livestream
Donations can be made to the Jefferson County Historical Society or Hospice of Jefferson County.