I was saddened to hear of the death of David L. White, former editor of The Royal Gazette, who passed away last night after a long illness.
While he and I did not always see eye to eye professionally during our time at Par-La-Ville Road, we enjoyed a far more cordial relationship after he retired and I came to respect his talents and generosity of spirit that weren’t always appreciated or valued in the chaotic and dysfunctional nature of a daily newsroom.
In fact, had it not been for David I would not have ended up in Bermuda at all, let alone call it my home for more than 30 years as it was he who interviewed me at the Berkeley Hotel in London in 1982 for a job on the sports desk of the Gazette.
It was the longest and most entertaining interview I’ve ever had, largely because by the time we’d finished, it was early evening and he insisted on buying dinner. As we sat down, he asked me what I would like to drink. Not knowing the protocol one should take with a prospective (and foreign) employer, I asked what he was having. “I’m having a f******g double vodka and tonic!” he declared loudly. “The single measures you Limeys serve are a joke!”
And so we proceeded to consume an absurd quantity of vodka and good wine. I have no idea what we talked about from then on but as I stood swaying on the Tube platform later that night waiting for the train home, I remember feeling confident that I would be leaving England for a tiny island in the Atlantic later that year.
Working with David, however, was a different matter all together. While he could be hugely entertaining and outrageous after a drink or two – he was a deliciously bitchy gossip – the technical side of the editor’s job was not his forte. He would issue bizarre edicts to us sub-editors such as “don’t use bold type – the human eye can’t read it” and banned bylines as he felt it puffed up the egos of reporters.
He also couldn’t write a headline to save his life which was the source of much amusement in the office. When I moved over to the Mid-Ocean News, we plastered a whole wall with his masterpieces. My favourite, about an inquest and writ large across seven columns, read: “Doctors placed patient’s leg injury over chest cavity bleeding”. They really don’t write them like that anymore.
David’s strength was in defending journalism itself. He always backed his reporters in public and in court, especially when the paper came under intense political and legal pressure, as it frequently did from both the then ruling United Bermuda Party and the Opposition Progressive Labour Party, and strenuously resisted any interference in editorial affairs by the paper’s board of directors.
Critics may argue that as editor of the daily paper he could have done more to advance racial equality – not least in his own newsroom – but during a turbulent time in Bermuda’s history (the 1977 riots and 1981 hotel strike occurred during his editorship) he strongly defended democratic principles and freedom of speech. Even the PLP gave him a Press Award of Merit for “his outstanding, objective and meritorious journalistic coverage of the political life of Bermuda”.
While I had many professional and heated run-ins with ‘DLW’ – I don’t think he talked to me for about five years after one particularly truculent outburst on my part – to my surprise he was highly supportive of me becoming the founding editor of the now defunct RG Magazine in 1992. He shared my vision of RG aspiring to be a Bermuda equivalent of major newspaper magazines like the London Sunday Times rather than the advertising supplement management envisaged. As a committed supporter of the arts, he frequently stood up for us when management went ballistic over some of our then edgy and creative fashion shoots, for example, or our in-depth articles on issues like AIDs, drugs or prostitution at a time when they were almost taboo.
After he retired in 1998 and I left the Gazette in 2001, we often worked together on projects for the Bermuda National Gallery, of which he was chairman, and I found him to be a fairer, more generous and compassionate man than I had once thought.
DLW, I came to realise, was fundamentally a shy and modest man, and a more complex and multi-faceted personality than many realised. I was glad that I got to write about some of that in a profile for the Bermuda Arts Council, from whom he received a Lifetime Achievement for his contribution to the National Gallery.
“Good Lord!” he laughed, when I was working on it with him last year, “you’re writing my obituary!” It’s kind of turned out that way but I hope that at least, in a small way, it acknowledges his contribution to the Bermuda he loved.
An updated version of this profile, with additional comments by acting editor Tim Hodgson, appears on the Gazette Online