CSW Loses an Icon in Conrad White '54: Alumnus, Trustee and Friend

An alumnus who once described his experience at CSW as “motivating and inspirational,” Connie has left a permanent, positive mark on the school’s history.
An alumnus who once described his experience at CSW as “motivating and inspirational,” Connie has left a permanent, positive mark on the school’s history.

Conrad White ‘54
died in Providence, Rhode Island, on November 9, 2015.

At CSW he was known as “Connie,” popular and proud of his friendship with every single classmate. An alumnus who once described his experience at CSW as “motivating and inspirational,” Connie has left a permanent, positive mark on the school’s history. As CSW’s first African American student, Connie was an uplifting and stimulating presence. Passionate about aviation, electronics, folk music and sailing, he credited his mother Lena White for being a strong single parent who encouraged him to take advantage of all the opportunities he could in life. It was his mother’s association with Samuel Chapman Armstrong, the founder of The Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) and a close friend of then CSW head of school Charles Platt, which led Connie to CSW.

Connie’s early childhood was spent in Hampton, Virginia, overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. He once shared that he felt fortunate to grow up in a very socially integrated African American environment at Hampton [Institute], a community where he stated that he had never felt prejudice. Living close to Langley Air Force Base, the Newport News Shipyard and the Norfolk Navy Base, Connie frequently collected World War II military equipment that had washed up on local beaches and that he would play with at home. This environment clearly set the stage for his interest and study of flight mechanics many years later at the Wentworth Institute. At Wentworth, he learned to repair early-model jet airplanes, solid preparation for his stint in the Air Force Reserves shortly after his graduation, where he crewed as a flight mechanic on C-119 troop carriers. It was his interest in electronics though, that he developed during his years at CSW, which propelled his career in multimedia development and television production.

As a CSW student, ham radio was one of his many hobbies. He and friends would also often follow directions printed in magazines to build transmitters. He even established the first campus radio station, still in use today. He played football, basketball and archery, was active on election committees and served as class president. He began his cherished collection of jazz records during his time living on campus. “It was an education that gave me a lot of confidence,” he said of his time at CSW for a Harvard University article published in the late 1990s.  

As a young CSW alumnus, Connie joined the Board of Trustees and played an active role engaging alumni/ae to attend reunion and other events for many years up to the last reunion held in June, 2015. He was even a dorm parent for a short period of time; a position that he described as refreshing after so much time living on campus as a student.

Television was a brand new field when Connie graduated from CSW in 1954, but his exuberance for leading the way was one of his defining qualities. Known among his friends and former colleagues as a “pioneer,” he was the first person of color to serve in most of the positions he held. Connie was instilled with a sense of self-confidence and steadfastness that friends and colleagues were moved by throughout his life. After holding various positions during his 15 years at WGBH in Boston, his extensive tenure at Harvard University continued for almost 30 years. Connie applied his enthusiastic appreciation for the tools of his trade into positions such as manager of the media production center and of the modern language center where he oversaw thousands of audio files that were used to teach modern and classical languages and music. His work helped the school to preserve a backlog of Harvard history that was becoming inaccessible.

Although he managed demanding jobs with very long hours, he always balanced his life with his many passions. Upon discovering yachting while attending the Newport folk and jazz festivals, Connie spent a great deal of his free time sanding, painting, skippering and sailing on various yachts in the area. While he was setting up to do a live broadcast of the Boston Pops for WGBH, he met David Rockefeller, who introduced him to the world of America’s Cup Sailing. Connie was invited to stay on Rockefeller’s 12-meter boat, which in turn led to other sailing encounters on other legendary America’s Cup craft, including Ted Turner’s “Courageous.”

A former colleague described Connie as “extraordinarily clever,” and recalled that he loved to find unique solutions to technical problems. His colleagues and friends shared that he dreamt of returning to aviation and restoring WWII vintage aircraft.

Connie will be remembered for his warmth, love of learning, his positive inner strength, and for being the “anchor” of the Class of 1954. His extraordinary spirit reminds us of the many values that CSW continues to instill in others.

In a feature article from CSW’s alumni/ae magazine from 2001, he shared: “The greatest thing that CSW did for me, was to convince me that I was able to achieve anything I set my mind to doing. It said to me ‘yes, you can.’”  

The CSW community mourns his loss. Gifts in his memory can be made to The Cambridge School of Weston, 45 Georgian Road, Weston, MA 02493. Please visit the CSW website for future details of a planned memorial event.

The formal obituary ran in The Boston Globe on 12/9/15, read here.

The Cambridge School of Weston is a progressive high school for day and boarding students in grades 9–12 and PG. CSW's mission is to provide a progressive education that emphasizes deep learning, meaningful relationships, and a dynamic program that inspires students to discover who they are and what their contribution is to their school, their community and the world.