Richard James White, Ph.D.
1934 - 1996
Richard (Dick) White, a musicologist, conductor, and trombonist, was born in Wokingham, Berkshire, England. Because he had severe problems with asthma from his earliest years, a physician recommended that he play a brass instrument to strengthen his respiratory system. The family joined the Salvation Army, in which Richard learned to play the trombone and joined the church's brass band.
The physician also encouraged the family to move from England to a more favorable climate. The Salvation Army assisted the family in making a move to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he, his father, and three sisters could play in the SA band in that city.
Richard started dating Shirlee Rippert-Harrell, a neighbor who was a Seventh-day Adventist, and when she finished high school in 1957, they married. At that time he was working as a lab technician for Hercules Powder Co. He decided he wanted to go to college and, though urged to take accounting, registered for mostly music classes at Western Michigan University in 1959. Within three years he had completed a B.S. degree in music, with honors.
He began his teaching career at Lynnwood Academy in California in 1962. In the following summer, while pursuing graduate work at Andrews University, he was offered an assistantship to work with Hans-Jorgen Holman. Although he initially declined the offer because he was under contract to teach at LA, the academy's enrollment dropped precipitously that fall, and his position was reconfigured to include driving the school bus as well as teaching music.
Once White had confirmed that the AU assistantship was still open, he got a release from his contract, along with a severance of six months in salary. He and his family, which consisted of two children, a daughter, Shelley, and a 6-week-old son, Richard, then moved back to Michigan, where he resumed graduate study at AU. He completed his master's degree at the end of the 1963-1964 school year.
That fall, White accepted a position as head of the music department at Caribbean Union College in Port of Spain, Trinidad, West Indies, where he served for the next three years. In his last year, he applied for and was accepted into a doctoral program at Indiana University. He completed all of his class work for a Ph.D. in musicology three years later. At that time, he accepted a position at Jersey State College in New Jersey, where he taught for three years, while working in the summers at IU on his dissertation.
In 1973 the White family moved to Adelphian Academy in Michigan, where he conducted the band. By the end of his second year at AA, White had completed and defended his dissertation, The Battre Fascicle of the Trent Codex 87," and graduated summa cum laude from IU.
That autumn, Dick began serving as chair of the fine arts department and band director at Southwestern College in Texas. Three years later, he left because he refused to be a party to what he felt was an unfair personnel decision affecting one of his colleagues. He took an interim job as general manager for Bascom Church Furniture to avoid moving from the area.
In 1979 the Whites agreed to go to Puerto Rico to teach music at the Adventist college. After they were packed and their belongings were on their way to PR, they were contacted about going instead to the Adventist school in Medellin, Colombia, now Colombia Adventist University, where Dick would chair and develop the music program.
They arrived in Colombia that fall and for seven years had a successful and rewarding experience personally and professionally. During this time they added a daughter, Diana, to their lives and started parenthood all over again. Shirlee later talked about her husband's work during their stay in Colombia:
During our time in Colombia, Dick's music students received highest ratings in the country when they graduated. He wrote numerous music books in Spanish and provided them to the students so that each one could have a copy. Also, as he did in every place he taught, Dick wrote many compositions for his groups that were performed but never published. The music program that he developed in Colombia was approved the first time it was reviewed by the government.
When the Whites returned to the U.S. in 1986, they were devastated when he was unable to find a teaching position in Adventist music. He was told that their seven years in the mission field was a liability and that he would not be able to work effectively with the young people because of the cultural changes that had occurred in the U.S during their absence. In spite of the disappointment, he did not harbor any bitter feelings.
He returned to AU and studied accounting for a year. In the next decade, the Whites lived in Kalamazoo, where he worked as an accountant. At one point, he contacted the General Conference and asked about the possibility of returning to Colombia. Although they answered affirmatively, Philip Hayden, an SDA missionary who had just left the country, told him not to return because it was too dangerous.
The Whites then contacted friends they knew in Colombia who confirmed this view, indicating that they were leaving because of political instability. In spite of this, Dick and Shirlee were preparing to go until the State Department said no, even though the church was still encouraging him to make the move.
In 1995 Dick was diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma, a virulent and fast-moving cancer of the lymph glands. Although it went into recession in late summer, the following year he developed acute leukemia, which proved fatal.
Sources: Interview with and Information from Shirlee White, 2007; Membership Application, International Adventist Musicians Association, 1980s; Obituary, Lake Union Herald, September 1996, 24; personal knowledge.