The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation in Flint, Michigan, has announced that board chair William S. White, who retired last November as CEO after nearly five decades at the foundation, has passed away at the age of 82.
Born in 1937 as the only child of Nathaniel Ridgway White, a business writer and editor for the Christian Science Monitor, and Mary Loundes White, a civil engineer, White earned a BA and an MBA from Dartmouth College. While serving with the U.S. Army from 1960 to 1962, he married Claire Mott, a granddaughter of Charles Stewart Mott, the industrialist who established the foundation that bears his name. White's father-in-law, C.S. Harding Mott, hired him in 1969 as a consultant. In that role, White helped reorganize and modernize the foundation's administrative, financial, and grantmaking procedures. In 1971, White was named vice president and secretary of the foundation and elected to its board — and, subsequently, to the positions of president, chief administrative officer, CEO, and board chair.
Under White's leadership, the foundation grew from a primarily local funder with assets of about $377 million to a global philanthropy with assets of more than $3 billion. As a grantmaker, he built a reputation for funding well-managed organizations' efforts to create infrastructure and sustainability in key sectors. Recognizing that the persistent and complex issues the foundation sought to address could not be resolved overnight, he believed that taking a "long view" was essential for meaningful, sustainable change to take root, and he embraced Charles Stewart Mott's belief in the importance of working in partnership with communities. White also was known as an institution builder who emphasized the need for good governance and transparency, especially in the charitable sector. When he stepped back from day-to-day operations and officially retired as CEO last fall, he was succeeded by his son, Ridgway H. White.
Just two days before his death, White delivered an impassioned speech at the Council of Michigan Foundations' annual conference, where his long career in philanthropy was celebrated. "Tell your stories," White told those in attendance. "Get out there and tell them."
White received many honors over the years, including the 2002 Distinguished Grantmaker Award from the Council on Foundations, which also honored him in 2014 for his efforts to support community philanthropy and promote partnerships across foundation types; the inaugural Philanthropy Compass Prize in 2009 from the European Foundation Centre, of which he was a governing council member; the Beacon Award for Services to Community Philanthropy in 2010 from the Community Foundation Network in the United Kingdom; and the Republic of Poland's Officer's Cross of Merit award for his contributions to the development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe.
"Bill's intellect and big heart were focused on improving the lives of people less fortunate," said U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) in a statement. "His philanthropic leadership at the Mott Foundation and work supporting after-school programs bettered the lives of millions of Michigan's children and families."
"For decades, Bill has been a giant in the community, using his philanthropic platform to advance the lives of the people who call Flint home," said Michigan State Senator Jim Ananich in a statement. "You can find Bill's fingerprints on just about every major initiative to improve Flint's education and health, clean up the environment, and revitalize our downtown."
"While the trustees and staff of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation are deeply saddened by Bill White's passing," the foundation said in a statement on its website, "we will be forever grateful that we had the opportunity to benefit from his wisdom, wit, and counsel for so many decades."