Pastime: McGehee’s Chief of Police, Warren Native, Jim White, 68, passes on Christmas Day

This Christmas Day, one of the shortest and saddest messages of this very unusual year, was “pinged’ into my electronic phone device in the lazy, ultra-warm afternoon of this holiday.

By Maylon T. Rice

Jim White, you see, was a friend, a real friend across the last nearly six decades, had suddenly passed away at his home in McGehee.

For my Warren friends, many of us know Jim White, 68, as a WHS Class of 1972. He was the eldest son of the late James P. and Marion Love White. Jim was the younger brother of Fran White Childress, older brother to Monticello newspaper publisher Tom White, and the older brother to Ann White Callison, now of Benton, Ark.

But folks in McGehee, for several generations to come, will know him in the kindest of ways as simply “Chief Jim White.”

If you’ve not been keeping up with Jim, and his developing into a police officer, I can attest he became one of the most respected Police Chiefs in Southeast Arkansas.

His transformational journey was spawned from his desire to fulfill a public service need for his adoptive hometown of McGehee.

Jim will memorialize later this week (see full obituary elsewhere in the Saline River Chronicle), on Wednesday with a full ceremony of law enforcement officials coming from across Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and other surrounding states to honor his memory in law enforcement.

Chief White, who started out in 1996 as a part time reserve and volunteer police officer. White who was easy to talk with to both the citizenry and the officers of the small department, was a natural. He left the newspaper, where he worked on May 12, 1999, to become a full-time officer with the McGehee Police force.

His ability to see the social, economic and financial benefit to the citizens of McGehee for a well-trained, well equipped and community friendly police force, has transformed the city and its law enforcement agencies and courts from the small and often outdated and rural setting into a professional department in all phases of policing.

He was also well known as a volunteer to other agencies needing assistance and equipment developing trust and admiration for police agencies all across Southeast Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta. White was often a sounding board for other departments as the turnover in law enforcement officers and especially City Marshals or Chiefs of Police and even patrol officers is higher than the national average. It is well known in law enforcement circles that working with Chief White meant just that – he was “working alongside you,” in all your phases of community law enforcement.

Jim saw in this glowing example of community policing growing up in Warren, as Chief, Tommy Dunaway, whom most of us reading this Pastime knew as “Chief Dunaway.”

And at McGehee, Jim also saw a great icon of a Police Chief in the late Chief David Dupwe.

Both men were of a no-nonsense era, policemen were good individuals, poorly paid, but honest, forthcoming and individuals who all cared about the communities they served.

Jim, like some other law enforcement officers coming from the era of WHS in the 1970s, never had to draw his gun, but still kept law and order. Rick Anders, Randy Peek and others in this generation come to mind tonight as I pen this piece. I grew up with some great public servants in all phases of police, fire, military service and public service.

While coming to McGehee in the mid-1970s to assist his father, James P. White Sr., and a local business partner, Mark Avery, Jim had quite a role in almost every facet of the business. He was an ad salesman, a printer (at time) and a seller of job printing all over Southeast Arkansas.

Jim, as the eldest son, had a hard role to play.

He, like many other eldest sons, in families, simply hitched up his trousers and went to work as directed by a strong work ethic he saw emulated from his father. And most of all I can attest Jim looked after his siblings all his life – including his older sister Fran, when she moved back to McGehee decades later.

He has no children of his own, but Jim was a joy to nieces, nephews and even another generation of children from his family and his in-laws.

As a new editor for the Times-News in December of 1977, I found Jim to be an absolute whiz as a stand-in 33mm film black and white photographer, but often not really on the subject, he offered to step in and shoot. 

In a hearted three-way Congressional race in 1977, Jim was dispatched to Dumas to shoot one of the three big names running for Congress of Ray Thornton, Beryl Anthony, or Winston Bryant.

Jim was to photograph one of these candidates, who was making a swing through Dumas, while another candidate was to be in Dermott and McGehee with me for most of the day.

Jim returned late that evening just about dark with a rather bland shot of Winston Bryant simply stopping to tie his shoes on the bumper of a Cadillac while a crowd of local officials watched on. I wasn’t very happy looking at the
“wet” negatives in a dark room later that night.

“But wait,” Jim said. “Look at this.”

 On his way back, he snapped a dark and deadly looking cloud just as a lighting bolt transcending the heavens into a cotton field as an old two-row cotton picker plowed through the white gold. It was all in the photo, just like one out of National Geographic.

Both photos made the newspaper the next publication. The cotton rainstorm won an Arkansas Press Association Prize in the Better Newspaper Contest for the newspaper.

He also could be counted on, in the absence of the newspaper editor, to turn in a delightfully crafted photograph and story on the lady who grew a 17-pound squash which was almost four feet long. The photo was all that was needed but Jim did write one heck of a horticultural piece.

Jim became and friend, often saving my neck from a social or political ruin and we remained friends far after my leaving McGehee in 1981.

During my time in McGehee, Jim became smitten with a shy accounting clerk at the McGehee Lumber Company – Arlene Coulter.

Never was there a better match made as Jim and Arlene, married November 1, 1980 and just celebrated their 41st anniversary. Arlene soon came to the newspaper as the regular accounting and front-desk clerk followed her husband to another AP&L station from McGehee.

And Arlene learned the newspaper business with Jim’s help and a strong community-based work ethic.

Chief White was born into a star-crossed family with printer’s ink, fine stationery and newspapering on so many levels. His grandfather on his mother’s side, Wilmer Leonard Love, came to Warren in the midst of the Depression to purchase a partnership from Judge Duvall Pekins, in the Eagle Democrat.

Building up their job printing, book publishing and fine stationery was a natural to Wilmer Love who as a young man had a former boss’s Depression era business failure send him out into central Oklahoma with no job.

But it was really his bride, Leona Elva Misch Love, who was a second-generation talented print shop artisan that made the business flourish.

The Misch family of German descent ran one of the finest print shops in all of southern Kansas, near the Oklahoma state line. Ms. Love was known to “sew” booklets with a fine needle, catgut thread and with such precision that fancy Garden Clubs and Women’s Club annual booklets held all their finely printed pages, easy to turn and lasting far beyond other such books and pamphlets.

The Love’s only daughter, Marion, fell in love with a local man, James Pleasant White Sr., the son of James Ebb a Baptist preacher and Sallie Starnes White, a homemaker.

James and Marion had four children, Jim being the eldest boy and second of the quartet. James Sr., learned to sell advertising and run the print job presses at the Eagle Democrat until the Love’s retired selling the newspaper and print shop business.  Jim has the unique summer time job during his high school years and thereafter to drive the Love’s on a summer sojourn to Coffeyville, Kansas to visit the relatives. The Love’s always drove a big, sleek Oldsmobile and Jim, with Wilmer Love, his granddad in the front, piloted the big car.

Jim lettered in Lumberjack football, but was not a star. He played from the YMCA Pee Wee league through Junior High and into Senior High as did many of the others in his class.

Jim was a very talented man who never met a stranger in life. He was perhaps least known as one of the better black and white 35mm camera photographers to hold a newspaper camera.

A graduate of Warren High, Jim was also a talented writer when he wanted to be, but was one individual who really eschewed the overall editorial side of the newspaper business, despite having grown up selling copies of the Eagle Democrat on the streets of Warren every Wednesday afternoon for spending money.

White moved to McGehee shortly after his senior year at Warren High to help his father run the McGehee Times. Shortly after taking on the Times, White and his business partner the late Mark Avery, also purchased the Dermott News, combining both publications in 1977. They also for many years ran a very popular Delta Shopper’s Guide in the area. The White’s became avid fans of the McGehee Owls as Tom played for the Red and White and Ann, later would be a cheerleader for the Owls.

James, Sr. retired from the newspaper business in 1992, passing the paper along to his sons, Jim and Tom.  Tom White (who married Susan Lucky) would eventually become the publisher of the Advance Monticellonian, leaving Jim and Arlene to lead the Times-News.

For many years, Jim and Arlene worked at the newspaper and later ran the business of the Times-News, until selling the newspaper to a relative, Rachel Denton Freeze, in March of 2016.

Jim said he “never missed the newspaper,” as he told me that several times, but he kept up, read and knew newspapermen – always developing friends with younger reporters and even TV reporters as Police Chief

Jim had an eye for detail as far as print imagery only highlighted by modern camera technology and color. Today Jim would be called a “graphic artist” in the modern vernacular. 

In a letter announcing his resignation as Police Chief due to his declining health, White was elegant and generous with his praise for present and former Mayors and those who helped him in his adoptive hometown of McGehee. “This decision has not come easily and brings with it a myriad of emotions. However, my continued health issues have only been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, health protocols, and mask requirements and I feel I can no longer serve our great City effectively.

“As Chief, I could not be prouder of the accomplishments of the McGehee Police Department over the past two decades. None of those accomplishments would have been possible without the support of the citizens of McGehee, the administrations under which I have served, and the department staff members. Without each of those three, there can be no true success.

“It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve the City of McGehee and to oversee the transition period in the Police Department over the last nearly twenty years. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to Mayor Bain Poole for giving me the opportunity to lead the department on May 12, 2004. Since then, I have had the pleasure of serving under the impressive leadership of the late Mayor Jack May, Mayor Jeff Owyoung, and the many fine men and women of the City Council. It has also been my privilege to serve alongside and in cooperation with the other city departments and employees.

“While my last official day will be soon, I will be available for any consulting or assistance to help the city and the department move forward should it be needed. Again, it has been my deepest honor to serve the City of McGehee, the Police Department, and the citizens.”

Over the years, Jim volunteered with many organizations including the McGehee Chamber of Commerce, the McGehee Beautification Committee, and was past President of the McGehee Industrial Foundation.  Jim enjoyed spending time at JRJ Hunting Camp with his friends and spent many hours lounging with his favorite beagle, the late Earl the Girl Herren.

I will miss my friend who would often call out of the blue to update me on a classmate, comment on these columns in the Saline River Chronicle or the McGehee Times-News.

His hearty laugh and kind countenance will greet me again one day, and somehow future Christmas Days will have a new meaning and a cherished Pastime memory I shan’t soon forget.

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Dear Mr. Rice, Thank you for this marvelous tribute to my first cousin. Jim’s daddy and my mother were siblings. I made my career, also in journalism and public service, in Baton Rouge. If we’d lived closer to each other it would have been so much easier to have more time together as adult friends. With this story you’ve helped fill in some of those gaps. I’m proud to be part of such a loving family. God bless you.
    —Marsanne Golsby

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