Monday, August 31, 2015

TOP STORY >> City patriarch T.P. White dies

T.P. White (seated) was honored for his long service with his own street sign at a recent ceremony at Jacksonville City Hall. With him are Mayor Gary Fletcher (left) and Public Works Director Jimmy Oakley.
Leader executive editor

T.P. White, 94, who moved to Jacksonville after he helped demobilize Camp Robinson at the end of the Second World War, died Thursday.

The only place he could rent a home after the war was in Jacksonville, he told The Leader in 2012, and he stayed there for 70 years, helping to build a small community with the arrival of other veterans and Little Rock Air Force Base a few years later.

The air base will celebrate its 60th anniversary in October. White was one the last remaining city fathers who saw the construction of the air base in Jacksonville, where he was a longtime planning commission chairman and alderman.

He was a veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War.

White was born on Oct. 15, 1920, in Yeagar, Okla. He attended school there and at the University of Oklahoma.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 53 years, Pauline Brooks White, and a grandson, Tyler Cypress.

A retired car dealer, he was on the Jacksonville Planning Commission for 34 years. He helped plan new subdivisions and Hwy. 67/167, which was built in the 1960s.
The city named the access road along Hwy. 67/167 T.P. White Drive.

“Not many people have an access road named after them,” said Rep. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville), who praised White’s devotion to his adopted city.

“He cared about the people of Jacksonville,” Johnson said. “He was always about helping the town. He loved this city. We all looked up to him.”

When he first ran for the Pulaski County Quorum Court, Johnson said White told him, “Always serve the citizens of the county. You take care of the people, and they’ll take care of you.”

White opened a Buick dealership in his front yard in the early 1950s, Johnson said. White tried to sell his dad, Dr. Albert Johnson, a Buick, but the doctor said he liked Oldsmobiles better because they were faster.

White challenged Dr. John-son to a race on the flightline at Little Rock Air Force Base, when it was still being built and there was little security fence around the base. Dr. Johnson drove his Oldsmobile and White was in a new Buick.

“They raced three times,” Johnson said, laughing, “and T.P. won every time.” Dr. Johnson bought the Buick.

White had facial surgery three years ago to remove a cancerous tumor. Wearing a bandage on the left side of his face, he still met regularly with a group of other seniors at the

Jacksonville Walmart, where they reminisced about the old days over coffee in the corner McDonald’s near the store’s entrance.

White would talk about growing up in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and moving to California with his family when the war started. He went to work for Douglas Aircraft. He said his initials didn’t stand for anything, until Douglas insisted he needed a first name and called him Thomas.

A few of the McDonald’s crew shared their thoughts on Friday.

Dana Browning and Harold Olive called White a good friend.

Olive said, “He was really honest, a good man. He was a real nice fella. I don’t know of anybody that had anything bad to say about  him.”

Browning and Olive agreed that was for a car dealer who had stayed in that trade for so long to come out of it with a good reputation.

Browning said, “He was a fair, honest guy” and Olive added, “A very trusted man...Never bothered nobody.”

Browning recalled White saying he was in the first 5,000 Reserve soldiers deployed to South Korea at the start of the Korean War. “What he used to tell me was that they got shipped to Korea in the middle of the winter and they didn’t have any winter uniforms for ’em. You know, in that day and time, the military had been cut from World War II.

“He said he was never so cold in his life...He said he thought he was going to absolutely freeze to death.” White escaped frost bite and didn’t lose any limbs, unlike many of his fellow servicemen.

Bob Hall, another member of the group, said, “I respected him very highly, and we’ll miss him...He was a real treasure for this community.”

He also joked, “We enjoyed solving the problems of the world, but there’s not much indication of it.”

Sharon Jolly said, “He was a good man. Had plenty of stories to tell. We all enjoyed him...Now we won’t know who to vote for” because White would also tell the group what he thought of the local politicians because he knew them and the old families of Jacksonville.

About 35 seniors belonged to the group when they first started meeting more than 20 years ago in the old Walmart across the highway.

Hall, the oldest, is 96, and the youngest is 78. The group includes veterans of three wars: the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam.

They used to celebrate their birthdays with cakes and candles, but they need so many candles now, they were a fire hazard, so no more cakes or candles.

White was past president of the Jacksonville Round-Up Club, the first booster club, as well as the Lions Club, Sertoma Club and the Employees Federal Credit Union.

In 1947, T.P. joined First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, where served as a deacon, Sunday school superintendent, member of the building committee and trustee.

In 1952, he helped start the Jacksonville City Planning Commission. He served for 34 years, under five different mayors, and was chairman for 21 years. He also served on Metroplan for many years. He helped found the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and was parade marshal of the annual Christmas parade for 25 years.

He was frustrated that the North Belt Freeway was never completed from the bean fields on Hwy. 67/167 in Jacksonville to I-40 in North Little Rock, although it was on the drawing board decades ago when he served on the planning commission.

White was chosen Sertoman of the Year in 1992 and helped start other Sertoma clubs. This year, Sertoma awarded a scholarship in his honor.

He also helped to found Foxwood Country Club and served as its president. He was a longtime member of Pathfinder and has a Pathfinder Services for the Disabled facility named in his honor in Haskell (Saline County).

There was a memorial service Aug. 29 at First Baptist Church led by Bro. Cliff Hutchins.

Sarah Campbell contributed to this report.