There have been few times in the 40-plus years of Commercial Fisheries News that we have set aside this space to honor a fallen colleague.
To do so is to risk slighting so many others who have passed without the special recognition.
But I could not let the sudden loss this month of industry icon Pat White go by without a few words, from me, straight from the heart.
There are others who knew Pat and his contributions to our industry – our community – far better than I. So, forgive me.
I can’t say that I knew Pat well, I didn’t. But I knew him, liked him, and respected him as an industry colleague for more than 30 years.
Pat and I served together on the board of the Maine Fishermen’s Forum some years ago. During that period, the board was dominated by a few big personalities, big egos, big voices.
It was in that setting that I saw Pat White do what he did best.
He was a statesman. A gentleman. A good listener. A negotiator. And the one you could always count on to bring the discussion back to the point that mattered, propose a resolution, and then move on.
Don’t get me wrong. Pat was no shrinking violet. If you tried his patience long enough, he could deliver a caustic sentence or two that would almost peel paint. Another skill that served him well, I believe – on the water, or in the boardroom.
As executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Pat earned a well-deserved reputation for serving his constituency vigorously, even fiercely at times, but always with dignity.
He knew how to get things done, but refused to resort to bullying to do it.
When he was asked to represent commercial fishing interests on an oceans commission initiated by the Pew Charitible Trusts, there were those who criticized Pat for crossing over to the dark side. He knew that.
But it was his view at the time, later reinforced by his service, that fishermen need to be more effective at educating those who don’t understand or oppose our industry – and that we always need to take a seat at the table.
I could not agree more.
The news of Pat’s sudden passing hit me hard.
I had just seen him at the Forum in March when he came by and sat a spell in our booth.
Beyond our professional relationship, Pat and I shared an additional common bond – widowers who had lost our lifelong spouses and soulmates.
We talked about that. And about getting on with life.
Pat had reconnected with a woman from his high school years and had refound his passion for skiing. He was thinking he’d continue to fish for a few more years, maybe not quite as hard, but would keep going to haul because he felt good and liked to keep busy.
At 76, he looked a good 10 years younger, and – maybe it was just me – seemed to be really happy to be embracing this next chapter of his life. And dammit, he sure deserved it.
But life doesn’t always work that way.
That’s why you need to savor every single minute.
Every one of them. I think Pat would agree.
And so now the final curtain goes down on a class act.
Pat White, an elegant man.
We will miss you.