Posted: November 23, 2013 in Bermuda, media
Tags: , ,

David L. White (1933-2013)

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.

You can read the full profile here

An updated version of this profile, with additional comments by acting editor Tim Hodgson, appears on the Gazette Online

  1. Margaret Smith says:

    Great tribute!

  2. Dana Cooper says:

    Thanks Chris for writing this. Sad to hear the news, I remember him being very supportive of us in his way. So many stories, memories, fun and hard work – and the fashion spreads, they were the most difficult to produce, who ever knew? I remember my interview with him too, not in London, no vodka drinks, but in Jensen’s office. He kept asking “are you sure you want to take this job, it won’t be creative at all?” It turned out to be one of the most creative jobs and we (our team) had creative license over many different subjects for each magazine! RIP David.

  3. Colin Roberts says:

    I am very sad to learn of the death of David L. White. He was a tremendously influential figure during my middle career, having interviewed and hired me in London in 1977, and, as I was a rather unusual expat in that I had a wife and two children in tow, he became a landlord and neighbour by providing me with appropriate and affordable accommodation. Chris has summed up his talents as an editor perfectly and David and I certainly had our disagreements, particularly during the 1977 riots and the 1983 criminal libel action, but he was always entertaining and often a joy to work with. I lost contact with him after 1984 but certainly never forgot him. May he rest in peace.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Thanks Colin. Remind me what the criminal libel action was about. I seem to remember the police raiding the Gazette newsroom?

  4. Cindy Swan says:

    RIP my friend. I’m sad to hear of David’s passing.

    I too recall going into his office, telling him I was there to canvass his vote for my husband. After a lengthy conversation, which he stated that he like my “balls” we agreed I would write a bi-monthly organizing column for the Gazette.

    I’m not sure if David voted for him that year because he came up early to the polling station on election day to vote smiled, nodding his head and went over to Jennifer Smith saying “congratulations Madame Premier. This was before noonday.

    I can attest to his philanthropic contributions, David has supported our charity Project Action on numerous occasions. He always found unique donations for our Royal High Tea Party silent auctions.

    He loved a good gossip and he was so very knowledgeable of Bermudian connections both Black and White. He never minced words about the people that crossed his path on the wrong side but in sharing the story, it was funnier rather than malicious.

    He was so very proud of you, Leslie, and his grand-children, always sharing what a wonderful blended family you had created over in Arizona.

    Our last chat we had a good laugh about the political environment in Bermuda, because with David even when presented with a serious situation, humour was bound to enter in the end.

    On behalf of Kim, Zindziswa and the Project Action Charity family, we say thank you to David and send our sincere condolences to Leslie and family.

    Rest in Peace my friend.

    Mrs. Cindy Swan

  5. Glen Wilks says:

    A very multifaceted individual, never agreed much with his reviews of contemporary art during his stint as an art critic but at least he had an opinion and stimulated much needed dialogue. A great host that made significant contributions to the arts and despite his seemingly pompous attitude a pretty cool person to talk to.

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