William White
(1900-1996)



Bill White was born in New York at the same time as that century that would be later called the American century. As a boy Bill used to play by the Hudson river with his friends. Defying the stream, he would often swim across what was then a clean river. Later, as a young man, Bill was looking for adventure and he joined the crew of a ship that was about to leave for New Orleans. Bill already imagined himself enjoying a good time on the deck ,while filling his lungs with the fresh ocean breeze. Yet, poor Bill would soon be disillusioned. He was sent to the machine room at the bottom of the hull and spent the whole trip shoveling coal and breathing the nasty machinery fumes. That trip healed him for good from his sailing dreams and he returned hastily to his native New York.

In October 1927, the Hudson River, playground of Billís youth, was the site of one of New Yorkís greatest projects; Under the direction of Swiss-born architect and engineer Othmar Ammann, The Port Authority began construction of a gigantic bridge linking New York and New Jersey. This bridge would be called the Washington bridge. For Bill White it was an extraordinary opportunity to return to the river he loved, so he joined the construction team. After swimming across this powerful stream so many times, he would now be among the first to see it from above. Ammann's design, bold and foresighted, was an engineering tour de force, with an extraordinary 3,500-foot center span suspended between two 570' steel towers. It would have the capacity and strength to add a railroad or a second roadway with an additional six lanes. Twice as long as the longest suspension bridge ever built, it was the marvel of its time and, to some, it will always be the noblest of all bridges.

          

This historical event was only a diversion in Billís career, since as many of the Irish-American of New York, Bill chose to become a fireman. Thus, for several decades, Bill would be a loyal servant of the New York fire department. In those days, when the century was still young, the equipment available to firemen was rudimentary and fires would often take a lot of casualties. Bill saw many of his friends fall by his side as they struggled in the middle of the flames. On one occasion, Bill remembered walking out of a building in flame to realize that he was the only one to have made it alive!

In spite of the danger and the ridiculous compensation, Bill imperturbably and loyally continued to serve the department over the years. At 80 years old, he was still there helping in the office in any way he could. When he finally died in Hastings-on-Hudson in 1996, the local fire department lined up before the passage of the funeral car, as a final tribute to a man that had been one of them for so long.