Ben Henson White

 

Ben Henson White, age 88, of Austin, passed away in Austin on Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, from cancer. He was born on May 23, 1923, in Slaton, Texas, to Benjamin Lawrence and Bessie Mae Henson White. He spent his youth in Cooper, Texas, and then Brady, where he graduated from Brady High School in 1940. He attended Texas A&M, Texas Christian University, where he obtained a degree in history, the University of Chicago Divinity School and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, where he obtained his medical degree in 1952. His education was interrupted by service in the U.S. Army of Occupation (1944-1946) in Japan. He finished training in medicine and pediatrics in the Baylor College of Medicine program in Houston.

Ben practiced general pediatrics in Victoria, Texas, (1955-63) and Austin (1963-1991), served as staff physician at Texas School for the Blind and School for the Deaf, volunteer faculty for the Austin Pediatric Education Program and consultant to the Texas Rehabilitation Commission (1991-2003). He served as president of the Texas Pediatric Society (1986-87) and as its historian (1999-present), having chaired its legislative and accident prevention committees and Automotive Safety Coalition, culminating in passage of laws requiring mandatory car seats and seatbelts for Texas children in 1984. He received the Texas Pediatric Society William Daeschner Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

He was preceded in death by his parents; and his wife of 59 years, Marguerite Capps White. He is survived by two sons, Carl Wayne White and wife Sally Stabler of Denver and Carter Capps (Cappy) White and wife Lillian Salcido of Davis, Calif.; grandsons David Stabler White and Evan Marshall White; granddaughter Maya Salcido White; brother Jack White and wife Nelda of Fredericksburg; sister Patt Warren and husband Earl of San Angelo; and many other loving family members and friends.

Ben was a gentle man who loved everyone and who, even until the end, was interested in the welfare of mankind. As a pediatrician, he made house calls, even after it was unfashionable to do so. His passion for justice and equality never flagged. Ben accomplished much in his long life and kindness was his currency. His passing diminishes us all, yet his life inspires us to do more for our fellow man.

A memorial service was held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011, at the University Christian Church, 2007 University Ave., Austin, Texas, 78705. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, 4900 Mueller Blvd, Austin 78723.

Remarks by Mel Oakes at Memorial Service:

There is much to admire, love and remember in the life of Ben White. Foremost for me was the undeniable fact that he was born with a soft spot for humanity in his heart. No amount of professional acclaim, financial success, our current political cynicism, not even 88 years of life could harden it. We saw it in all the accomplishments that are described here today. We all have our stories that illustrate his kindness and sensitivity, some large and some small, yet all make up the man we honor here.

Here is a small story. While playing doubles at tennis one day with Ben, I had, uncharacteristically I might add, moved in front of him to hit the ball several times. He came over to me and pointed this out, in a tone probably reserved for Carl and Cappy. We continued to play without further incident. Later that day I received a phone call from an embarrassed Ben, quite apologetic, and asking forgiveness for the incident. Ben loved tennis. He played with our group for over 20 years. Remarkably he never missed a match because of a muscle or joint problem. His last day on the court was June 28th of this year, fortunately this will help me remember my wife’s birthday which is the same day. Ben fully intended to return in the fall after the heat subsided.

Lest you think that at 88 he was content to camp out at the service line with the racquet held vertically in hopes that someone would hit it, you would be woefully wrong, as a number of the group here today can attest. He was still executing that graceful and potent forehand and fearlessly charging the net.

On that last day he made several shots that garnered applause from the adjacent court, our highest compliment. I should point out that Ben had retired from the group earlier because of balance issues and concern over falling and being unable to care for Marguerite. Charles Thrash, a fellow player and admirer, saved the last ball Ben hit knowing it would appreciate in value. Ben’s return to the court was, I like to think, his protest against such speculation. I have no doubt, had his health permitted, we would have seen him with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.

Ben and Marguerite loved the theater and were strong supporters of Austin Playhouse, attending regularly with their friends Bob and Loraine Mayfield.

Ben was also a stalwart member of the Men’s Bookclub of the Congregational Church of Austin. His Robert Service poems and his racy limericks, which he always quoted from memory, were much anticipated at our poetry meetings. He loved a good joke and if it had a political side to it, then the better. I usually got Ben’s jokes second hand from Matt Blackstock and Dennis Murphy, colleague and his longtime friends.

Ben’s nominations for books over the years give you a measure of the breadth of this renaissance man: The Post American World by Fareed Zakaria, The Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth About our Money System and How We Can Break Free by Ellen Brown. His recommendations this year were John Adams, by David McCullough and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel by David Wroblewski. The latter will be our February book in 2012. We will dearly miss Ben’s comments, insight, humor and fellowship on that night.

I would like to close with a few lines from Robert Service’s poem, The World’s All Right. They could have come from Ben’s To Do List:

"Be honest, kindly, simple, true
Seek good in all, scorn but pretense
Whatever sorrow come to you
Believe in Life’s Beneficence!"

Comments received from Ben’s tennis group:

Charles Thrash: “I hope somewhere today there is a person born who turns out like him.” “I have been incredibly fortunate to have crossed paths with so many great people. Ben was one of them.”

Chieze Ibeneche: “I am truly saddened. I am doubly saddened because I fear I will be out of the country during the services.”

Rich Thompson: “Thanks, Mel, for letting us know. Even at a distance, I share in mourning his loss to all who cared for him and were cared for by him in the church and community. I'm sure I'm not the only one to have thought of him as "Gentle Ben." For he was the epitome of kindness and thoughtfulness - to his family, friends, within his profession. Yet he was tough when if came to justice - an advocate for the 99%. He will be missed, yet live on in the influence which flowed from his gracious spirit into our lives.”

Vernon Wong: “He was a true gentleman who delighted in playing the game of tennis. Active until he could no longer stand, he inspires us to continue playing as long as we can remain upright on our two feet.”

 

Eulogy for Ben White by son Carter (Cappy) White
December 18, 2011

First of all, on behalf of my brother Carl and the rest of our family, I would like to thank all of you for coming here today to celebrate the life of our father, brother, grandfather, and father-in-law, Ben Henson White. I know for some it was a long trip. It was only a year and a half ago that many of you joined us to honor Mom’s memory.

I will give an abbreviated biography of Dad’s long, full, and rich life. I’ll close with a few remarks about what it was like to have such an amazing man for a father. It’s impossible to cover everything, and Dad would want us to give short speeches so that we can have plenty of time to visit at the reception downstairs in the Fellowship Hall immediately after the formal ceremony.

The other speakers each represent one or more facet of the major themes in Dad’s life, including family and friendship, pediatrics, his church and the community, politics and Dad’s commitment to social justice, and his lifelong love of tennis.

Before I get started I need to thank some of the people who helped and supported Dad in the weeks after his cancer diagnosis. So many of you rallied to support Dad that I know I will leave someone out. Dad’s sister Pat Warren, who spent many days in Austin, Dad’s brother Jack, and cousins Debbie Russell and Nancy Hodges, were a tremendous help to Dad, and to Carl and me, who could not be here every day. And many other close friends, including Barbara Ruud, who spent time with Dad and inspired him to endure his situation with a positive outlook and with grace. We want to thank the Congregational Church Community, including Tom VandeStadt, Matt Blackstock, and Bill Beardall for spending time with Dad. The caregivers from Health at Home, especially Sophia Freeman, Tussic Davis, and Robbin Simms, and everyone at Hospice Austin, especially Nikki Jackson and Dr, Ann Case, were a tremendous source of comfort and support to Dad and our family.

Ben was born in Slaton, Lubbock County, Texas, on May 23, 1923, the son of Benjamin Lawrence White and Bessie Mae Henson White. Early in Dad’s childhood, the family moved to Oklahoma, but by the time he started school they had moved again to Cooper, in Delta County, northeast of Dallas, where they were closer to family.

My nephew David interviewed Dad about life in the Great Depression for a school project. Dad said, “I lived in the country in a two bedroom house, one mile out of town. I go to ride a horse to school. We were forbidden to gallop on pavement. At noon I would go to my great grandmother’s house, to give the horse water and to eat lunch, then back to school.

“We had a garden, and some hogs. We had a smokehouse where we made pork and sausage. For a while my father was a butcher, and he would go house to house selling meat. We were not well off, but we had the necessities, food and shelter, and a car. We had a farm. The landlord had half the yield of crops.” Dad remembered flying kites, but also chopping a lot of wood.

Dad told me he was a sharecropper’s son. In reality my grandfather had a number of occupations. Dad learned hard work from both of his parents. His parents and siblings always called him by his nickname, “Bubba.”

Dad said in his childhood he was not much into politics, though he did get frozen malts at a shop called The New Deal. He told me he remembered doing campaign work for his maternal grandfather’s campaigns for Delta County Sheriff, at least two of which were successful. Dad’s grandmother cooked meals for the prisoners in the jail. She cried when my grandfather had to take any of them to the state penitentiary.

When Dad was eleven years old and in the sixth grade, the family moved to Brady, in Central Texas. My grandfather became part owner of a John Deere tractor dealership, and he had a ranch. Dad caught scarlet fever and had to be quarantined with his mother for about six weeks. His father and brother Jack went to live at Dad’s grandmother’s house. This made an impression on Dad and the experience may have helped inspire him to later go into medicine.

Dad worked for his Dad at the tractor dealership painting cultivators in what he termed a “nine dollar a week paid vacation.” Dad also worked on his father’s ranch. His mentor in ranch work was a black man named Deacon Sanders. Despite the fact that he was about 30 years older than Dad, and Dad’s protest, Mr. Sanders insisted on calling him “Mister Bubba.”

In the spring at the end of the school year, there would be a competition in several athletic events, including the bar chin. That first year, Dad brought the swinging bar chin from Delta County to McCulloch County, and he won first place. Apparently there were howls of protest, because the following year that event was not included in the competition.

Dad played the clarinet in the school band and elsewhere. He was a smart and studious kid, and did well in all of his subjects, including typing. He graduated from Brady High in 1940. Then he began a long quest for a career.

My grandfather had always wanted to be a large animal veterinarian, so Dad went to Texas A & M for his first year of college, as a pre-vet student. He was only an Aggie for one year. He left for TCU, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in history and pre-theological studies. He went on to the University of Chicago Divinity School. After a year he became disillusioned and dropped out. He told me a story once of preaching a sermon at a small congregation in East Texas and causing a minor stir because he did not have a hat. “Brother White, where’s your hat? Brother White doesn’t have a hat!” He said he didn’t think his sermon had gotten through to what he perceived as small-minded people whose interest in church was less in God’s word and more in whether someone was properly attired. It may be that it was more his mother’s wish than Dad’s own that Dad become a preacher.

By leaving the seminary, he lost his military deferment, so he joined the army in 1945 in the middle of WW II. After basic training, Dad was assigned to an infantry group that was shipped out of Seattle to the Pacific Theatre. The casualty rate among American soldiers fighting in the Pacific was high. Dad’s combat career was cut short when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Dad’s ship then headed for Japan, where Dad served in the army of occupation. Dad landed at Nagasaki eight weeks after the bomb. (The soldiers waited two weeks in the harbor “for the radiation to die down.”) They headed by train through the atomic devastation, and then the areas that had been bombed by conventional weapons, which Dad said showed the same level of destruction.

Because he did well on the army’s typing test, Dad was assigned to a hospital laboratory. An American army doctor and a Japanese physician recognized the potential in Dad and encouraged him to go into medicine. The hospital treated many victims of the bombing. As with many veterans of the Greatest Generation, the war had a great influence on Dad, and you could always pull out his box of photos to get him to tell his Japan stories. I believe the experience influenced Dad to become a pacifist. When I was in high school, Dad and I walked together in a Vietnam War protest march. Dad carried a sign he had made that said, “Stop the Bombing.”

Dad returned to TCU to pursue pre-med studies but not before he and an army buddy from Los Angeles took an epic trip through Mexico. The trip was only about 2 or 3 weeks, but they covered a lot of ground. The trip sparked a lifelong interest for Dad in Latin America, as well as a love for the Spanish language.

Dad returned from the War with a greater interest in politics, and for a time supported the presidential candidacy of Henry Wallace, who ran as a socialist after being dropped as Vice-President by FDR. Dad subscribed to a socialist newspaper, which was delivered to a common mail area at a fraternity house at TCU. He eventually voted for Harry Truman.

In college, Dad had summer jobs with the YMCA in Colorado, and with the American Friends Service Committee working with migrant farm workers in Minnesota. In the summer of 1948, just before he started medical school, he worked with the Friends’ organization again at a hospital lab in Essex County, New Jersey. The young people assigned to the hospital for the summer joined with some of the younger nurses at the hospital and enjoyed social outings, including
visits to New York City. One co-worker was a black man named Ralph, who on one occasion invited the group to attend a meeting of the Communist Party USA at Madison Square Garden, as well as a cocktail reception that followed. Dad and his friends attended out of curiosity, and Dad bought a 50 cent beverage for himself and one of the nurses. An older gentleman who worked at the hospital lab, possibly motivated by patriotism, by racial prejudice, or mere jealousy, reported the names of all who attended to the FBI.

Dad went to medical school in Dallas. It was not easy, but he persevered and completed his training. On one of his trips home to Brady, he was a last-minute substitute at a canasta game for a preacher who had been called away on some emergency. There he met Marguerite Capps, a tall slender beautiful brunette from Mason County, who by then was wrapping up her studies at UT Austin. Dad described their wedding day, June 24, 1951, as the luckiest day in his life.

The young couple moved to Houston where Dad began an internship at the VA Hospital. Dad’s career was almost sidetracked when he was “allowed” to answer a set of questions posed to him by the Loyalty Review Board of the US Civil Service Commission and the VA. He was accused of being sympathetic to communism, of having read the Daily Worker newspaper, and to have said that when the communists take over we will have good things like socialized medicine.

Dad wrote a detailed response to the interrogatory. It is eight single-spaced typed pages. He did not require the assistance of an attorney to answer the questions. He admitted to having contributed one dollar to the Communist Party to purchase drinks, explaining that his interest was social not political. He also explained his belief that for our country to avoid falling victim to communism it needed to make greater strides in promoting equality of the races, and making health care and housing accessible to all.

After Congress and President Jimmy Carter liberalized the Freedom of Information Laws in the late 1970s, Dad obtained a copy of his FBI file, which indicates that the one report in 1948 set off an investigation of Dad involving hundreds of man hours and eight FBI field offices, in which agents visited every place Dad had lived and interviewed scores or people, including college and medical school professors, the County Attorney, Sheriff, police chief, and others in Brady. Almost all of those interviewed described my father as thoroughly loyal to the United States. The files indicate only that “no disloyal information or data [was] developed.” The agents’ reports indicate suspicion based on Dad having been stationed in Japan, having indicated a desire to work as a medical missionary in China, and having been placed at the hospital by a Quaker organization.

Dad told me this year that he regretted writing the letter, the implication being that in hindsight he wished he had told the Loyalty Board to stuff it. I pointed out that he needed his job, with a newborn baby and wife to support. I told him when I read the letter it had made me proud to be his son.

In 1954, Mom was driving in the heavy rain in Houston at night with Carl in the car, secured by the best available device of the day. They were broadsided by another vehicle, whose driver had run a stop sign. They were both thrown from the vehicle but were fortunate to land in a yard of a house that had been vacant for some time, and the grass had grown tall and cushioned their fall. Carl had a concussion and Mom had a back injury that troubled her for the rest of her life from time to time. This experience prompted my parents’ interest and work for a child safety seat law, which finally passed in Texas in 1984.

Dad began private practice in Victoria in 1955, where I was born the next year. In 1963, Dad was invited to join the Children’s Medical Center in Austin which was a great change for our family.

Dad was always a spiritual person, but in keeping with his personality he did not proselytize. He knew what he believed. I overheard much of his conversation with the Hospice Austin chaplain, who asked Dad if he had any worries in the face of his terminal illness. Dad said, “Yeah I’m worried that the Republicans will take over,”

Dad was not perfect. He was a procrastinator. The night before our family would leave for a one week vacation in Colorado, he would usually stay up most of the night clearing his desk at the office, and Mom would have to drive all morning while Dad slept. (This habit I inherited from Dad and it drives my wife crazy.) Dad was sometimes passive and took a while to think things over. His parents probably pressured him a great deal to finish school and decide on a career. As a result, it was nearly impossible to get him to give strong advice to Carl and me about what path we should follow. I did get his attention once in high school when I told him I didn’t think I needed to go to college; he let me know that was not going to happen.

Dad gave so much to Carl and me, including strong immune systems, since he brought home every childhood disease. He paid for us to go to college. He taught us patience, and instilled in us a commitment to help others. He inspired Carl to become a pediatrician. He taught us to love the game of tennis, the outdoors, and the joy of family and friends. He was thoughtful, and a good listener and we strive to be the same. He and Mom modeled a lasting, committed marriage of 59 years, and they taught us by example a pretty good way to raise kids.

Dad also showed that even when you lose the closest person in your life, that life is still worth living. In the past 18 months, he continued to pursue many of his interests, joined a new community, and maintained and developed close friendships. Throughout Mom’s long illness and the time he had left after that, he studied Spanish, attended the Yeller Dawgs and the men’s’ book club, worked at the church, and remained active in the community, all with his optimistic outlook.

Growing up, our family did not always verbally express our feelings and emotions. But you always knew where you stood with Dad. In the past several weeks, Dad had great difficulty breathing, so he expressed himself with very few words. But he continued to communicate his emotions with the sparkle in his expressive eyes, and his wonderful smile, reminding us that there are many ways to express feelings of love, and that even if you cannot say it with words, you can say it with your heart.

Eulogy for Ben White by son Carl White
December 18, 2011

Top 10 things not stated in the obit: or, my father was into a lot of stuff.

# 10- My father used the ‘soft sell,’ and he did not force his ideas on his children. However, he was still quite effective as a salesman. As a result, I went into pediatrics and have become a lifelong tennis player.

# 9- Papa was into mischief. His best friend Wayne Hurd and he enjoyed rolling old tires down into Brady from the top of the big hill on Halloween. He did not gamble, but he also loved games – including bridge, dominoes, 42, and canasta.

# 8- He loved music and especially jazz (but also Symphony). He played clarinet and other reeded instruments with Cecil Strigler’s Straggling Strugglers. One day he showed my younger son how to play the clarinet. The soft sell worked. He also loved to dance.

# 7- Daddy was a hypnotist. He once took me into the room of a child with post-pertussis syndrome at Brackenridge, and I understood the soothing effect he had on very sick children. Another thing to emulate.

# 6- He was a lifelong learner. He practiced his Spanish lessons almost to the end, and he formed a strong bond with his classmates, telling many of the stories of his life in Spanish.

# 5- He loved the nations and peoples of the world. His first international travel was brought to him by the US military. …. But we always had foreign students adopted by our family. He must have had something to do with it because one of the first students was from Japan. Dad corresponded with members of his church from Japan long after he came back to the States. He would have traveled more but he chose to stay by my mother’s side during her extended illness.

# 4- He had the most extensive ‘background check’ for a job of anyone I ever knew. However, ultimately the FBI investigation involving about 8 regional offices, found him squeaky clean, not a Communist, used the word “wholesome,” and was described as not disloyal to the United States.

# 3- The last year of his life was certainly one of his happiest.

# 2- He faced death calmly, rationally, and pragmatically. He said to me: “I’ve had a good run!”

# 1- He loved his grandchildren (but also his nieces, nephews, and grand nieces and nephews) more than anything in the world. While he never bragged on himself, he did so about them profusely.

I am still in awe of my dad.

Excerpt from Eulogy for Ben White by niece Laura Beth Calvert
December 18, 2011

To me, he was just Uncle Bubba. I was always fascinated by how he could sleep sitting upright in a wingback chair without falling out of the chair. I am sure that skill was mastered as a survival technique after staying up many a late night tending to sick children. It was only in the last few years that I finally realized what a redneck name we had for such an erudite man. Now…some of you may have an Aunt Sister….so please forgive me……….but it is very odd to think that for 49 years I have called my favorite uncle what amounts to “Uncle Brother.” Bub or Bubba was what he was called by my mom, Patt, so,naturally, he just became Uncle Bubba to us. His giant smile, his sly little wit, that slow paced drawl, and his constant positive energy, were key elements of his Uncle Bubbaness.

My children were not fortunate enough to be his patients, but I would speculate that he looked out for the interests of his patients and their families in significant ways. His influence stretched over 400,000 patient contacts, and that is probably on the shy side. He valued others above himself as was evidenced in the way he treated those who cared for him up until the end. Not many people I know have the entire hospice caregiver team show up at the patient’s home right after he passes away.

He kept considering the interests of others up until the end. He was really struggling to breathe toward the end of life, and it was difficult to speak, but he continued to try to engage visitors in conversation….he asked probing questions about my children, my job, my husband…and my political views. I am certain he regretted asking that last one.

Uncle Bubba was a peacemaker and justice seeker for the oppressed. He was concerned, on a recent visit, that I made sure to get the gray blanket back to the Freeze Night program for the homeless at the Congregational church. He loved nature and being outside and wanted to make sure he did his part to take care of it. He made sure I knew where the recycling went at Westminster Manor. And he definitely mastered the art of walking humbly…in fact, until I read the obituary in the newspaper, I had never heard about some of his accomplishments. His conversations were rarely about himself and were most often inquiries of others or sprinkled with tidbits of family history.

In closing, what shall we take of him as we leave this place? This is what I would say: love your family well and take care of them regardless of the cost to yourself. Find something you love to do and do it well. Be kind. Enjoy a great meal with gusto. Spend time outside. Be grateful. Smile a lot. Be patient. Look out for the downtrodden. Do what is right even if it is very, very unpopular. And, smile some more.