Richmond County didn’t lose just anybody on Monday with the passing of Glenn Wilson White.
It lost a leader. A tireless worker. A friend.
White, 83, died Monday at Hospice Haven. With his passing, our area lost a true asset to the community.
“Glenn was an outstanding business man and treated his employees very fairly,” said Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris of the East Rockingham resident and co-owner of the former White Poultry Company. “He was always community-minded and willing to do anything to improve it.”
Active in business, church and civic organizations, the former Rockingam City councilman’s work ethic was unparalleled. The life of an elected official, however, was not for him. At the chicken plant, Cadieu said, White was the boss and when he would “push a button, things would happen. In politics, it doesn’t work that way.”
His passion for an honest day’s work began at a young age as he earned money delivering newspapers, including the Charlotte Observer in the mornings and The Richmond County Journal in the afternoons.
Neal Cadieu, a high school classmate and close friend of White’s, worked at the Journal with him in the newspaper’s print shop as “printer devils,” Cadieu said.
In those years — before, during and after — putting together a newspaper required a bit more manual labor than the industry today demands.
“Glenn and I both would leave after school and walk downtown and work at the Journal print shop until suppertime,” Cadieu said. “Everything was hot metal. We both learned how to build a fire under the kettle and melt lead … and make casts for advertisements.”
It was a time in White’s life that wouldn’t go away from his mind.
“Everytime I saw him in the last few years,” Cadieu said, “he would mention the press that he used to operate.”
The two parted ways after high school. Cadieu went to college. White joined the U.S. Army and served at Fort Polk, La. As a first lieutenant, his job was to help train recruits to prepare for war.
After being honorably discharged in 1954, he returned to work with Cadieu at the Journal. Within a short time, however, the poultry business began to take off.
“He was working very hard then,” Cadieu said. “The poultry business began to grow to the point his dad needed him full time.”
Chickens were nothing new to the White family at that point, but it did seem a rather odd pairing early on. The Whites lived in the mill district — far away from chickens and other livestock. During high school, though, White took an agricultural class and needed a project. He chose chickens.
White and his family built the chicken plant from the ground up. At its peak, there were more than 300 workers and, indirectly, countless more independent contractors. By the time White sold the plant in 1985 to Perdue Inc., the plant was one of Richmond County’s largest employers.
Before and after that milestone, Austin White said his brother worked hard to improve the lives of others. He figured Glenn would be most proud of his time as a member, and later chairman, of the board of trustees at Richmond Memorial Hospital. Still today, a plaque in his honor hangs on the wall of the hospital’s main entrance. Austin said his brother served on the board for eight years.
Cadieu said that while Glenn White dropped back from the public spotlight, their friendship lasted.
“Our friendship has survived right up until the very end,” Cadieu said. “I saw him last about two weeks ago.”
There wasn’t much conversation, Cadieu said. But there was a connection.
“It’s been a long road,” Cadieu said of White’s life, and for the most part “a happy road.”
Cadieu acknowledged the White family endured some difficult times. When chicken plant workers went on strike in the mid-1950s, Glenn White would sit up nights with a rifle on his lap in order to protect his family’s home and everyone in it.
“Strikers were prone to cut tires (and) set fires,” Cadieu said.
Glenn White remained active with the Rockingham High School Class of 1948 and helped organized reunions as recently as 2006.
The family has planned a private memorial service Friday in the hospital’s chapel. Austin White said it’s only fitting.
“I feel that with his dedication to the hospital, that is a very appropriate place for it to be,” White said.
Staff writer Kevin Spradlin contributed to this story.