Richard M. "Dick" White
April 25, 1930 - August 14, 2020
U.C. Berkeley Professor Richard M. "Dick" White passed away peacefully on Friday, August 14th, at home at the age of 90 in the presence of his family. He is survived by his two sons, Rolland (Rollie) White and Brendan White, both of Portland, Oregon, and four grandchildren. Dick died of complications resulting from a fall at home just before Father's Day.
Dick was born in Denver, Colorado, on April 25, 1930, to Rolland M. and Freeda B. White. An only child, Dick's early years during the great Depression were challenging, leading to a difficult childhood. The family moved often (always in Denver), and Dick found it challenging to make friends. One day, while on his way home from grade school, Dick was chased by some bullies, and discovered he was a very fast runner. His 9th grade gym class was taught by the cross-country coach, who noticed Dick outrunning the other students.
Dick joined the high school track team, and won every race he entered his senior year, including the State High School one mile race, despite starting in 13th place. He was academically successful, winning a Pepsi Scholarship which guaranteed full tuition to any four year college its recipients could get into. Dick was admitted to both Harvard and CalTech, choosing Harvard where he joined the cross country team as a walk-on becoming among the Team's strongest runners. At Harvard he completed a Bachelor's, Master's and PhD out of a love of science, and a simultaneous desire to not find himself in the Korean War.
After Harvard Dick took a job with General Electric in the south San Francisco Bay Area where he lived in a small cottage in an apricot orchard in what is now Silicon Valley. With several co-workers he spent many weekends and days off hiking, skiing and cross-country ski touring in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. Dick fell in love with the mountains; a passion that stuck with him for the rest of his life. In fact, Dick's work computer password consists of keyboard symbols depicting the sun, snow and water in the mountains. On one of our annual family backpacking trips near Mammoth, Dick found a beautiful meadow a half-mile off the John Muir Trail which he dubbed "the secret campsite," a place we'd return to year after year, once getting snowed on unexpectedly in July.
Dick was recruited to U.C. Berkeley in 1962, where he joined the faculty in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department. Early in his time at Cal he married his secretary, Chissie Chamberlain, and they had two sons, Brendan and Rollie. Dick and Chissie divorced in 1973, though they later became friends and even went on a family trip together.
A prolific researcher, publisher and inventor, Dick authored and co-authored over 90 papers, co-authored two books, and filed numerous patent applications, including most recently in April, just before his 90th birthday. His research specialty was sensors based on Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) devices. His achievements in this field were honored by winning the IEEE's coveted Rayleigh Award (2003) for contributions in the field of ultrasonics. Dick helped start a freshman engineering class that gave first year students a taste of their major to ensure they were in the right place early in their college careers. He also helped found the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Sensor at Cal, which partners with agencies and companies to solve complex engineering problems, while supporting the research of over 100 graduate students. In 2013 Dick was awarded the James Clerk Maxwell award from the Royal Scottish Research Society in Edinburgh, with the medal presented to him by Prince Philip, the Queen's husband. During his career at Cal he worked with over 30 graduate and post-graduate students whose continued work is part of Dick's professional legacy.
After the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, Dick was inspired to organize his Panoramic Hill neighborhood in disaster planning, the establishment of a cache of firefighting and emergency response equipment, and training of residents by the Berkeley and Oakland fire departments to provide some self-protection in the event a fire swept the neighborhood. Using Dick's model, similar equipment caches were established elsewhere in various parts of Berkeley.
Dick loved to travel the world, both professionally for conference attendance and also for pleasure. While on a trip to China, his tour group visited a Giant Panda conservation center where Dick was photographed holding a panda cub. The photo embodies the adventurous spirit of Dick White, and speaks to his passions for wildlife and natural places (both of Dick's sons pursued careers in wildlife and fisheries conservation).
Dick loved music, once building a harpsichord from a kit, though the banjo was his favorite instrument. He played bluegrass music every Monday with his dear friends in a group called the Poodle Players. He was a member of the U.C. Berkeley Faculty Club Monks choir since 1963, singing every year at the Faculty Club Christmas parties. Dick loved good wine, cooking and playing pool. He was a member of the Orinda Road Runners running club, active in the Claremont Canyon Conservancy in Berkeley, a season ticket-holder at Berkeley Rep, spoke some Russian, German and French, and prided himself on always being able to find a prime parking space and being able to tell you the time without looking at his watch.
Dick was inventing until the very end: he filed his last patent application this past April for a device to detect airborne Coronavirus in an effort to provide an early alert to people who may be infected. Every doctor who cared for him heard about his idea and his eagerness to get back to work on it.
Dick's ashes will be scattered at the Secret Campsite, set in a beautiful Sierra basin, with a trout-filled stream running through it. Donations in Dick's name can be made to The American Bach Soloists (https://americanbach.org/Other-Ways-To-Give.html
) or the Claremont Canyon Conservancy (http://www.claremontcanyon.org/donate