In Memoriam - Mitch White
Bill Hanson, left, Corps of Engineers project officer, and Mitch White, who was quality control officer for Potashnick Construction Company, observing the arrival of the electric dredge Hydro-Pacific through Angel’s Gate in January 1981. This picture was taken by Judith Powers and published in World Dredging & Marine Construction in the March 1981 issue. Hanson is now vice president of business development for Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company.
Mitch White died peacefully on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2012, after a bout with pancreatic cancer.
Mr. White began his career in dredging while still in college, working first in the Memphis area and then later on some of the first-ever beach nourishment projects in Miami. He spent the last 31 years of his life in the Los Angeles area working in a variety of capacities on every major project in the Los Angeles/Long Beach basin. He concluded his career working with Manson Construction where he had his greatest impact on industry. He was the champion of the IIF (incident and injury free) culture change pervasive throughout the industry, as well as being instrumental in the founding of the CDMCS (Council for Dredging & Marine Construction Safety), the first-ever safety committee combining the Corps of Engineers, marine construction and dredging industries.
Longtime friend and colleague Bill Hanson said, “Mitch was very active in a variety of industry associations, including the AGC (Associated General Contractors) and California Marine Affairs and Navigation Conference (C-MANC). Mitch also negotiated all of Manson’s labor agreements and was highly regarded on both sides of the table. In his later years, he was passionate about ethics and worked to bring the discussion into every facet of his life. Manson’s website features the result of his professional work on ethics, but he also brought the discussion to his family where he was known to challenge his teenage sons with being transparent and offering quotes like ‘ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do’.”
Mr. White was involved in the first deepening project in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach 2020 plan, and was on the Corps of Engineers boat that met Potashnick’s dredge Hydro-Pacific as it entered San Pedro Bay through Angel’s Gate in January 1981. He was quality control officer for Potashnick on that job. He met his wife Jody through the project, when she visited her father Ed Cucheran, who was consulting on the project.
Since the first landfill project at Pier J in Long Beach, when Mr. White worked for the joint venture of Manson, Connolly Pacific and Great Lakes Dredge & Dock, he was involved in every major project in San Pedro Bay.
“His legacy was safety in the dredging industry,” Hanson said. “He was pushing safety when safety wasn’t cool.”
After a member of the Operating Engineers told him that dredgers worked seven days a week while the Corps worked five days a week, and suggested that he spend time on the dredges, Mr. White took his advice and got to know the people working on the equipment. He developed a care and appreciation for them, which was the premise of the IIF concept, where everyone is invested in making sure that each person goes home safely at the end of the shift.
“In 2010 he testified in a Senate hearing before Barbara Boxer about safety; he was always making a difference,” Hanson said.
“We used to sit in the back of a pickup truck with a six-pack and talk about what was wrong with the industry,” Hanson said. What came out of these talks were the safety part and most recently, ethical considerations, which Mr. White advocated at Manson and which is now spelled out as a commitment on the company’s website – www.mansonconstruction.com/code-ethics. The statement reads in part, “These shared goals and values set the foundation for how we interact with our fellow employees, our customers, the government and our business partners. We expect that, in the course of doing business, all employees, officers, directors, agents, teammates, vendors, consultants and suppliers of Manson will maintain a high standard of ethical behavior, encourage ethical behavior in others, support ethical decisions and actively seek appropriate resolution to potential ethical conflicts.”
“Any time you talk about Mitch everybody gets a grin on their face,” Hanson said. “He had an impact on everybody. He was my best friend, and I found out that he was everybody’s best friend,” he said.
Marc Stearns is another friend and colleague who was close to Mr. White. He is Manson executive vice president and regional manager for the Gulf and East Coast.
“Mitch had a tremendous sense of humor. His laugh was genuine,” Stearns said. “I was with him the day before he died, and his sense of humor never left him.”
Stearns had high praise for Mr. White’s rectitude and business acumen.
“Mitch became a “go to” guy at Manson, and people sought his advice. When there was a difficult issue, people on both sides were always glad Mitch was in the discussion,” Stearns said.
“Mitch helped the industry change and embrace the IIF culture,” Stearns said. “He helped change the paradigm that for many years held that accidents were an unavoidable part of dredging, to believing that we can work safely at all times.”
He ended up as the ethics and compliance officer for Manson.
“We learned about value-based ethics, from purchasing, to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, affecting all Manson personnel. Mitch was reporting to the Board of Directors on these matters. He was a lawyer as well as an experienced dredge hand, and so bridged the two worlds,” Stearns said.
Bill Hanson said, ”Mitch’s life was celebrated at a ceremony at the Rolling Hills Covenant Church outside San Pedro, California on January 2, attended by 250 people, where a few tears were shed, but mostly wonderful memories shared of a man who had a unique ability to see good in people, never took himself too seriously, and challenged all to work together for the benefit of the dredgehand and industry alike. Mitch obtained a law degree during his years in the industry and was comfortable in a board room, or testifying before Congress, but was most comfortable on the deck of a dredge,” Hanson wrote. “Mitch left a wonderful legacy that will challenge all of us for years to come,” he said.
He leaves his wife Jody, and two sons, Teddy and Albert.