Even before he entered grade school in his hometown of Niagara Falls, N.Y., George White’s brilliance set him apart. “George was always quite knowledgeable and very bright,” recalls his sister, Caroline Shogren. “His former Kindergarten teacher once told our mother that she had to use an encyclopedia to look up some of the information he shared at school! He carried that reputation for brilliance throughout his life.”
George White went on to become a scientist, businessman and urban visionary. He earned several degrees, including a doctorate, and spent most of his career in industrial engineering. After two decades with Xerox Corp. in product development and engineering, he transitioned to a career in higher education, with Harvard University and then the University of Pittsburgh Applied Research Center. The latter position brought him and his wife Kathleen, a math and science graduate of Purdue University and a talented investor, to Pittsburgh. They loved the city’s warm and friendly people,” says Shogren, and quickly adopted Downtown Pittsburgh as their home.
George and Kathleen became distinguished benefactors of Point Park, the Pittsburgh Opera and other educational and cultural organizations in the city. George took a personal interest in Point Park early on. He became a University trustee in 1995, taught at the School of Business, led the establishment of the University’s state-of-the-art library and University Center, and supported the Conservatory of Performing Arts. The George Rowland White Performance Center and the GRW Theater in the University Center bear the White name. The couple also established the George Rowland White Endowed Professor of Accounting and Finance, held by alumnus Edward Scott, C.P.A., M.B.A., who leads Point Park’s Urban Accounting Initiative with educator and civic leader Dr. Herman L. Reid Jr., director of academic outreach at the University.
Kathleen, who became a trustee as well, was honored in a campus ceremony to name the dance building the George Rowland White Performance Center in recognition of her husband’s service and to honor the vision he promoted for Point Park as a dynamic urban university. Together, the couple made a lasting impact in their dedication to Point Park’s programs, students, and faculty before they died (George in 2012, and Kathleen in 2013), and that impact continues with their transformational bequest of $15 million.
As Kathleen told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, "a lot of George’s contributions were to expand Point Park as a means of revitalizing Downtown Pittsburgh.” Her husband, in turn, was always quick to credit his success to his wife: “The secret,” he said in a 2011 interview with The Point, “is to marry a bright woman.”
“The idea that George and Kathy would become so invested in the success of Point Park, a university that they didn’t even attend, was completely consistent with their values,” recalls Warren Moe, George White’s nephew. “In everything they did, they wanted to see a difference being made. And they believed that one of the best ways to do that was through education, which was a very strong family value for them.”
Reid became a close friend of George and Kathleen White several decades ago, during his service as the executive director of the Negro Educational Emergency Fund (NEED) in Pittsburgh. Today, he continues to uphold their vision in his work with the BOLD (Building Our Leaders Daily) program, which is based at Point Park and provides a series of hands-on, real-world career awareness, preparation, acquirement and exposure experiences for middle school studentsin urban schools.
Reid recalls that he first met Kathleen when she walked into the NEED office and asked to meet him. “She said, I’ve read about what your organization is doing to help students, and I want to support it.” She then reached into her purse and pulled out a generous check. She told Reid that she was particularly impressed with the story of a talented Point Park student who had received assistance through NEED, and said ‘I like what you are doing to get students prepared to enter into this global economy,’ he recalls.
It was the beginning of a close, personal friendship with both George and Kathleen, says Reid, who enjoyed theatre, music and long conversations with the couple that continued through the years. “They died much too soon,” he says. The BOLD program is, in part, a tribute to both of them, he says. “George was bold, and you have to be bold,” says Reid. “I met these two persons who changed my life, and want to do the same for someone else: to create a legacy that will impact individual lives.
“I don’t want George and Kathleen White to be forgotten. I want their legacy to remain in action. “
Text by Cheryl Valyo
Photo of George and Kathleen White by Tom Bell
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University