A One-Of-A-Kind Human Being


Just after 8 PM the night of Thursday, November 4, I received a call informing me that “Bob’s in the hospital… he’s down…”
It sounded like “breaking news” I would sometimes joke with Bob whenever he called me to discuss something…
My Initial thought was to get dressed and head to the hospital. But after listening to the ominous tone of the caller’s voice, and sensing the seriousness of the situation, I concluded that I shouldn’t be there. Bob’s family was present, and under the circumstances, aside from taking up space my presence there wouldn’t do anything to help the situation.
I would visit him tomorrow. But the rest of the night I kept hoping tomorrow would bring better news.
Then came the next day, towards the end of his morning radio program the host broke the news: “Bob White of the West End Sports Association died last night…”
Shocking, especially because Bob White had certain people on his call list. There were days when he called me three, four, five times to talk about all sorts of things pertaining to the relevant issues of the day. He was a news junkie, always had something, any number of breaking news stories he heard or read, to discuss and analyze.
So where to begin I asked myself as the realization of Bob White’s departure set in.
He was never at a loss for words or things of substance and socio-political import to talk about. He always had something on his mind, and to anyone who would listen, to impart. He was generous with information and always had copious amounts of it, which he extracted from the media (TV, newspapers, magazines, books, the Internet…) to share. If he found you interesting he would give you photo copies of articles primarily about ways to make money, to consume.
He was blessed with the gift of gab. And those who didn’t know him well enough described him as contentious, dogmatic… Maybe Bob simply overwhelmed them. Whenever he mounted his horse he commanded attention. People had to listen; he had a lot to say.
Bob was an enigmatic character, ubiquitous yet very private. The public character was the persona. If he and you knew each other well the private person would emerge, albeit not completely. Because of his mysterious persona, he was hard to figure out, and not for a lack of trying.
Which over the years have given rise to gossip and innuendo. When asked about the man. “He’s a real character… Who is he? What is he like? I’ve heard stories about him…” people have said, wandered, questioned over the years. As he would say, “Forget the stories, just gimme the facts…”
After an encounter with him most would walk away confused, unable to penetrate Bob, the character. He didn’t have much patience for talk…
One smart and ambitious young man had a first encounter with Bob White as the three of us rode on the subway once. They were meeting for the first time, and the youngster was inquisitive… asking the old timer many questions, which he enjoyed.
So when he asked, “Who are you, where do you work?”
“I’m a hustler,” Bob responded
The young brother was amused; Bob liked that. They developed a relationship. He could sense that the young brother, now at a university south of the border, had a plan and was well on his way to a lucrative career.
The young man no doubt took the news of Bob’s death very hard.
“Who’s that man,” young brother asked the next time I saw him.
“A good man,” I told him. “Born and raised in Little Burgundy,” Bob would say.
It must’ve been in the late 60s or early 70s growing up in St. Henri and occasionally venturing into Little Burgundy (there was a place called the NCC, where people—young and old alike—would go to socialize) that I first heard of Bob White. I would also see the man, sometimes with a plastic or other bag, going about his business… always focused, a man on a mission. If he were in close proximity, I would say hello.
As the years passed I began to learn more and more about the man. There was talk… rumours and innuendoes… depending on whom one talked to. Then there was talk of his involvement with young people, and things he was doing to help them elevate: in basketball, football, hockey…
And I would recognize his voice on talk radio, occasionally read about him and his endeavours in newspaper and magazine articles… and meeting him at various venues around town (even on downtown sidewalk conversations when out of nowhere he would appear and immediately engage, talking about all sorts of life’s things. All of that helped me to get to know the man better. And as I got to know him—as much as he would allow—the more I began to appreciate that unique Black community asset, his irascible personality (a facade) notwithstanding.
Discussing certain subjects he would become very passionate, so locked in that at times he seemed at a loss for words—an aberration for the garrulous Bob White—totally consumed, oozing palpable passion, almost on a high as he made his points, and all he could say to release the pressure is: “Oh boy.”
Many can attest to his generosity with his means and time helping people—youth and adults alike—in need. He was well connected with a network of the right people in various areas of society—from the political to the social. If he couldn’t help you in a certain way, he would give you the contacts of someone to call.
He didn’t just talk; he delivered. It’s the kind of man he was.
Most importantly, he was a wealth and depth of knowledge and information, which I periodically tapped into. That’s now lost.
Last time I saw Bob White was the week of October 27, when he stopped by the CommunityCONTACT office to submit the latest contributions of the “Ways and Means Committee.” He spent an unusual amount of time talking about the important matters of the day: the dubious state of the Black community, the world, the U.S. elections… and the issue always front and center of his raison d’étre: encouraging anyone who would listen to find practical legitimate ways “to make money.”
He continually lambasted Black people for [our] lack of imaginative, creative and viable ideas to secure the means to financial independence [by cultivating and nurturing an entrepreneurial spirit] and by logical extension building a vibrant community. Citing various examples he always concluded what had become his latest mantra, “The Black community lacks organization and structure…”
It’s hard to argue with that.
I know, I know, there are people reading this who beg to differ, but…
This is not a character analysis, just my take-away of a polarizing Black community icon and stalwart who, despite his abrasive personality (and persona) got along well with just about everyone who knew him.
Bob and I have thrown around this subject a few times.
In the 1940s, owner, General Manager, and coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Conn Smythe, who famously stated, “I’ll give $10,000 to anyone who can turn Herb Carnegie white.” He was referring to a young, and by all accounts, skilled Black player, one of Jean Beliveau’s contemporaries, who was never afforded an opportunity and privilege to play in the NHL — because he was Black.
And so, for those of you who heard of, read and enjoyed his Ways and Means Committee musings, but never had a chance to meet him, a void has been created by the death of Bob White.
For all intents and purposes, Bob White was a one-of-a-kind Montreal icon who happened to be Black. He had knowledge, knew history, and told real stories… with all the facts.
To that end, $10,000 has been put on the table for anyone who can resurrect our dearly departed.