A Life: Lois White; ‘She was a great coach and loving critic’

  • Lois White, photographed in Windsor, Vt., on Aug. 28, 1997, brought her own love of music to generations of students in the Windsor school system. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Lois White conducts the Windsor High School orchestra, shown in the school's 1964 yearbook. Before her retirement in 1986, White served as the music educator for the high school as well as Windsor’s State Street School. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy Helen Davidson

  • Lois White in a 2000 photograph on Lake Willoughby. White returned to the lake where she spent summers as a child. Her parents owned property, including five rental cottages, on the lake in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. (Family photograph) Family photograph

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 7/25/2021 5:45:24 PM
Modified: 7/25/2021 5:45:26 PM

WINDSOR, Vt. — For more than a decade, Lois White met a group of women at the therapeutic pool in Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center every Tuesday and Thursday for an exercise class geared to people with arthritis.

The classmates got to know one another best in the cool down period when they would sit in the jets and chat. But as usual with White, who died on July 2, 2021, at 95, things always got a bit more melodic than that.

“Inevitably Lois would have us singing. Just picture seven or eight older women sitting in the water singing You Are My Sunshine,” said Pennie Armstrong, who also knew White as a former colleague in Windsor schools “She would just break into song and start leading us.”

“And we always talked about family and sports. She knew football inside and out,” Armstrong said of White, who was a diehard New England Patriots fan. “I’m the last person who was interested in athletics but I am now — that’s the teacher in her.”

Before her retirement in 1986, White served as the music educator for Windsor High School as well as Windsor’s State Street School. In 1997, White conducted the Vermont Symphony Orchestra in a rendition of John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever when the Lois F. White Theatre was unveiled at what was then a new high school building.

Music was always central to White’s life. A talented cellist, she played professionally in the Vermont Symphony Orchestra from 1948 into the 1980s, but she knew her way around a piano and all kinds of horn and woodwind instruments as well. In the year prior to beginning with the VSO, White studied with the first cellist of the New York Philharmonic and performed at Carnegie Hall.

Born to Ted and Harriet Fish in 1925 in Palmer, Mass., White was raised in Belmont, Mass., a suburb of Boston. After graduating high school in 1943, she joined her family at the military base in Ohio where her father was stationed and took up a teletyping job for the Air Force.

As a member of the Women’s Army Service Pilots program, White obtained her pilot’s license in May 1944 while studying at Drake University, from which she would graduate with a degree in music education.

White’s parents owned property, including five rental cottages, on Lake Willoughby in the Northeast Kingdom. Willoughby would always be a touchstone for White, and she returned time and time again throughout her life, bringing along an increasingly large family and her strong cadre of friends.

After college, White beelined it back to Lake Willoughby, working as a counselor and music director at Camp Songadeewin for two summers before starting as a teacher in Windsor in 1948.

It was in Windsor that White met her husband Raymond. The pair were married in 1950 at the lake, and had three children, Jeffrey, Ted and Sara.

“She was an amazing mother,” said Barbara Mechler of South Derby, Conn. Mechler’s family rented a cottage from the Whites on Lake Willoughby while she was growing up, and she was close with White’s children.

Bob Hingston, former director of the athletics department at Windsor High School and a longtime family friend of the Whites, remembered how she would march with her kids in the school band. “And I’ll tell you what. They were paying attention. It was all business.”

It was also all business when White would stand on the front porch and play the bugle to call her children home for dinner.

Every few months Mechler, a vocalist herself, traveled to Windsor to visit White. “When I would begin practicing a new musical piece, I’d go up to Vermont and sing it to her before the performance,” said Mechler.

Gently, but with no holds barred, White would give her advice on things like pitch and diction. “She was a great coach and a loving critic.”

White is remembered for her lifelong, generous friendships.

“She had an uncanny ability to make me, and probably lots of other people, feel that you were the most important one in the room,” said Mechler. “That was such a wonderful gift, and I think it was genuine. She did care so deeply, even until the very end she remembered things about all of us.”

“When I would be up there, she would receive letters from former students who were now in their 70s. She impacted countless lives, of people all over the place. There was a musical connection, but it certainly was more than that.”

Although husband Raymond died tragically by complications from a devastating fire on the family’s Hunt Hill Farm in Windsor in 1979, each summer White continued to head north to Willoughby around the 4th of July and stay until Labor Day weekend. This tradition went on pause a few years ago, after White had taken a few falls and needed more intensive care.

As White found herself increasingly immobile, Fern Wilder and Helen Davidson, former music students of White, got to work putting down the details of her story. Along with Armstrong, the pair would take notes and record White speaking. “She of course was very self-effacing and thought it was all nonsense that we were taking this stuff down,” said Davidson.

Even when she was the subject, White ensured that she was caught up on the lives of her interviewers.

“She was such a wonderful listener,” said Davidson. “She was so interested in what other people were doing and terrifically concerned with getting to speak to everyone in the room. She was just full of excitement about people, and life in general.”

“She spoke with pride about her family, and a lot about Willoughby,” said Wilder.

White made a point of swimming across the entire length of the lake each year on her birthday. Even on her 70th, this time with her daughter trailing behind her in a canoe, White made the watery trek across Willoughby.

“I just think she was an inspiration to her students, her friends, her family,” said Armstrong. “She led by example.”

Frances Mize can be reached at fmize@vnews.com.

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