Former Freeport Mayor William H. “Bill” White died on May 14, surrounded by his family, in Pinehurst, North Carolina. He was 98.
“My father lived an extraordinary and full life,” his son William H. White Jr. said. “He loved the people he served in our wonderful, diverse village. One of his biggest attributes was that he treated everyone he met with the utmost respect. Our family was blessed to have him for so long as our patriarch.”
Born on May 5, 1927, on North Columbus Avenue in Freeport, White graduated from Freeport High School in 1945. He then served in the Army Air Corps before pursuing higher education at Colgate University, where he successfully completed his studies in 1950.
Remembered fondly by his loved ones, White is survived by his wife of 40 years, Austine, his two sons, William White Jr. and Geoffrey White, as well as his cherished grandchildren, Brian White, Lauren White, and Jennifer Juers. His brother, Robert White, preceded him in death.
During his tenure as the owner of a thriving local insurance agency, White began his political career in 1969, when he was elected to the village board of trustees. His dedication and contributions led him to serve as deputy mayor, and in 1973 he was elected mayor, a position he held for 12 years. His impact on Freeport was significant, leaving a lasting legacy.
Notable achievements during his mayoralty include his instrumental role in signing the village’s first hydroelectric power contract in 1976, which provided residents with affordable and environmentally friendly electricity. He presided over the opening of the Freeport Recreation Center in 1974, and appointed Dorothy Storm as the first female member of the village board in 1973. Storm succeeded him as mayor in 1985, becoming the village’s first female mayor.
One of White’s notable contributions was following through on the suggestion from Artie Grover, wife of his high school friend Al Grover, to place signs along Woodcleft Avenue reading “Nautical Mile.” This initiative brought about a new identity for the now-renowned Long Island tourist destination.
In 1981, White accommodated the movie star Bette Davis by vacating his office in Village Hall and allowing her to use it as a dressing room while filming “Family Reunion.” The mayor also had several memorable encounters with “Mr. New Year’s Eve,” Guy Lombardo, at the legendary Texas Ranger lunch counter on North Main Street. In 1976 he presented the key to the village to the world-famous Freeport resident when Lombardo was recognized by the Chamber of Commerce. Following Lombardo’s death in 1977, South Grove Street was renamed Guy Lombardo Avenue in his honor.
White also collaborated with then-New York Secretary of State Mario Cuomo to combat prevalent blockbusting and racial steering practices of the 1970s, in which homeowners or prospective buyers were guided away from neighborhoods due to racial or ethnic demographics. His efforts were instrumental in securing $10 million in federal funds for the construction of senior housing on Main Street and the rehabilitation of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-owned homes, which were sold to over 100 first-time buyers. White established the innovative Homefinders program, a village-run initiative that matched Freeport home sellers with buyers.
After completing his mayoral term, White served as the deputy commissioner of planning and economic development for the Town of Hempstead from 1985 to 1989.
Affectionately known as “GPA” to his grandchildren and simply “the Mayor” to his extensive circle of friends, White was known for his deep love for his family. In his leisure time, he enjoyed golfing, boating, fishing, and sailing. He spent many summers as a Jones Beach lifeguard, and frequently sailed the waters off Long Island and the Virgin Islands. As deputy mayor, he had advocated for the acquisition of the Freeport Police Department’s first patrol boat for monitoring the village’s waterways.
Throughout his life, White was dedicated to serving his community and actively participated in various local organizations, including the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the American Legion and the Freeport Tuna Club. He was an Eagle Scout and served as the Meroke District Chairman for the Boy Scouts of America.
After retiring to North Carolina in 1989 with Austine, White continued to engage in community service as a hospice volunteer well into his 90s, while also enjoying his favorite pastime, golfing.
“He was a great man, and I have had the pleasure of meeting him multiple times since his retirement,” Mayor Robert Kennedy said. “We deeply mourn his loss and extend our heartfelt condolences to the White family. Bill’s wife served as a trustee in the village for many years, and was a personal friend of mine. On behalf of all the department heads, staff, and myself, we share in your grief.”
A wake and service honoring White were held at the Hungerford & Clark Funeral Home in Freeport on May 24. Following a religious ceremony at the funeral home, he was laid to rest at Greenfield Cemetery in Hempstead. Those wishing to pay tribute to White’s memory may make memorial donations in his name to FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care at 150 Applecross Road, Pinehurst, N.C., 28374.