Thursday 23 January 2020

Obituary: David White

Sportsman and businessman who lived his life by the Corinthian values of fairness, equality and respect

All-rounder: David White was a rugby player, jockey, track and field athlete and golfer
All-rounder: David White was a rugby player, jockey, track and field athlete and golfer

Tucked away in a picturesque back lane in Rathfarnham, the Progressive Jewish Cemetery overlooks the entire city of Dublin while being sheltered by a guard of mighty conifers. It is now the final resting place of David White, whose funeral last Thursday morning required garda presence to direct the 300-plus well-wishers who crammed inside the small graveyard to pay their respects.

Such a turnout is indicative not only of a rich and broad life which, over its 81 years, took in excellence in the sporting field, business world and endless community endeavour, it also speaks to a refined moral standing and somebody who lived their life by Corinthian values of fairness, equality and respect.

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Among the mourners was a guard of honour from Edmondstown Golf Club, which is located, as one attendee quipped, "a drive, a chip and a putt away" from Woodtown Cemetery.

For almost half his lifetime, David was a devoted servant of the course, fulfilling offices of captain, president and life vice-president as well as a long-standing committee tenure.

Perhaps more illustrative of his principles was his tireless and long-running capacity as the "father" of the club's junior members, a role which saw him not only welcoming young talents, but also nurturing them into trophy-winners.

The story of Edmondstown - as detailed with affection in 2013's Portrait of a Golf Club, co-authored with friend and fellow stalwart Howard Jacobs - was one which chimed with David's outlook on how we treat others in this world. Established in 1944, it was the response by a group of determined Dublin golfers who had been denied membership at courses across the land because of their religion.

In turn, the club's founding fathers vowed never to discriminate on the basis of background or creed.

Sport is above such things, David understood, a philosophy borne between running track, racecourse and rugby pitch. After schooling in St Andrew's on Clyde Road - in his later years, he would become president of the Past Pupils Union - he was shipped off to London to work in Jacqmar's in preparation for joining the family business.

There, he played rugby with Finchley RFC, before joining Carlisle RFC/Maccabi upon his return to Dublin and eventually becoming captain and later secretary.

Athletics was seen as a handy way to keep fit between rugby seasons, so he joined Crusaders AC. But David tended not to do things by halves, a recurring pattern seen in his business and family lives.

The bug for track-and-field pursuits bit hard enough for him to end up being part of the 4 x 400m relay team which held the Irish record for many years, and to represent Ireland on the international stage.

When his legs no longer carried him as fast as they once did, David's upbringing in the rural idyll of Templeogue House and his father Henry's stable yard reaffirmed their presence.

So began a new chapter as an amateur national hunt jockey which saw him ride in point-to-points and even bring in a famous Leopardstown win in February 1969.

Underpinning all these successes was discipline. In the case of his racing years, this meant pre-dawn drives out to the Curragh before returning to the city for work at 9am. In business, it was a similar story. Henry White's, the coat manufacturers built up from nothing by his father, went from strength to strength under David and brother Bernard, becoming a synonymous entity in "brand Ireland" and beloved of presidents and stars alike.

It is perhaps to do with his immigrant Jewish heritage. On both his father Henry's side and on that of his mother Henrietta (nee Elliman, sister of the legendary Dublin entertainment impresario Louis), the forefathers had arrived from the Baltics in hope of a better life following the nightmarish pogroms of Tsarist Russia. Safety nets and back-up plans were unheard of. Graft and dignity were what won immigrant families such as the Whites and the Ellimans a foothold in their new world on the western edge of Europe, and with talk of controlled borders and direct provision dominating conversation these days, we would be wise to consider the enormous contribution to Irish life of these two families.

None of this needed to be said to the large and mournful assembly last Thursday morning, all of whom will sorely miss the softly spoken family man who went through life with as much gentlemanly class as he did devilish humour. Edmondstown affiliates, former employees, competitors and teammates, community members and legions of dear friends circled around David's three sons, his wife, his siblings, and a devoted extended family, all of whom are left bereft by his passing after a difficult year of illness.

Comfort can be taken in the fact that he slipped away peacefully at the family home of 40 years in Clonskeagh, surrounded by framed photos of happy relatives and leaping thoroughbreds, and the laughter of grandchildren never far away. Exactly as he would have wanted.

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