KNAU and Arizona News
4:05 am
Thu January 8, 2009

Clifford E. White remembered for his many roles

Flagstaff, AZ – On the day after Christmas northern Arizona lost a man who was a cherished gift to the community. Northern Arizona University theater professor emeritus Clifford White died of a heart attack while shoveling snow. He was 83. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales has this remembrance.

Clifford White was a perfectionist. He even wrote his own eulogy before he died assuring that even after he was gone his funeral would be done right. Friend Mac Groves says the memorial service Saturday was a huge hit.

GROVES: Cliff would've been very pleased with a full house.

Colleagues, actors, loved ones and students - some who traveled great distances -- gathered to remember White. The service was held in the theater named for him on NAU's campus. White's colleague Mac Groves:

GROVES: No matter what he said he liked having that theater named after him. He would stand in the back and just look out over it. I'd say, what are you doin' surveying your kingdom?' And he'd love that. He'd just laugh. But yeah, that's what he was doin' saying this is MINE I built it. He DID build it.

White came to NAU four decades ago to head up the communications and theater department. He put in long hours teaching drama, speech and education classes and directing many, many plays. He was a founder of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. The NAU theater was dedicated to him in the early 90s for his talent and hard work building the program. Theater professor Bob Yowell says White was demanding of others, but...

YOWELL: The person who he demanded the most of was himself. I remember working with him on shows and he'd come in and go over and over his part to make sure he got it just right.

White gave his final acting performance in 2002 in the play "Communicating Doors."

WHITE: I trusted him like a brother. I never had a brother you know. But if I had had a brother I wouldn't have had to trust him!

The play was directed by Richard Jesswein, who considered White to be a mentor. Jesswein learned from White both on the stage and off.

JESSWEIN: Later in his life he was wanting to be there for his family in a way he hadn't been earlier in his career. He would tell me to be there at night so I could kiss my children and put them to bed.

White had been suffering from heart problems. A few years ago Jesswein says he had open heart surgery.

JESSWEIN: And I remember speaking to him shortly after the surgery and he said that he was surprised to still be there. And he said that to Doris and Doris said, well you still have work to do Clifford.'

Doris Harper White, a beloved actress and director in the community, has a theater named for her as well. Recently White took his wife to see Six Degrees of Separation. Tony and Linda Sutera starred in the play.

TONY SUTERA: Linda and I came out for the curtain call and Clifford gave us a one person standing ovation. It was so touching because it really, really was a statement for Clifford to stand up when no one else did and look you in the eye on stage and give you a hand. LINDA SUTERA: Oh when he stood up it still makes me cry thinking about it. I was just in awe.

White's impact was and will continue to be felt by many. Theater professor Mac Groves says he will miss his friend.

GROVES: He was outrageous. He was very authoritarian. He could pester you to the point of being obnoxious and at the same time he cared about everybody. He loved to argue. And if you really wanted to get something with Cliff you had to match him on his own terms not to cower but to get back in his face. He just loved that. Students have said I never hated anyone as much as Cliff and I never loved anyone as much as Cliff. I feared him yet I emulated him. He was incredibly colorful from the snow white sideburns and the odd Grecian formula brown hair to the colorful ties to the precise pronunciation of every single dip thong on the planet. He was Cliff White. Nobody else was Cliff White. And he knew it and he loved it.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.

OUTRO: White is survived by his sister, his wife Doris Harper White, three children, seven grandchildren, two great granddaughters and one great grandson on the way.