Leonard Anthony White began living on February 13, 1944 and had over 57 years to make it count. He used that time to achieve an admirable balance that would make a good daily example for anyone fortunate enough to know its details. The pairing of practical ability and artistic devotion is a timeless goal that’s tough to achieve. But finding joy after working professionally in the city he found where he belonged was an earthly dream Leonard made true.
It takes a special kind of selfless personality to hold a job that requires eschewing luxury. Leonard was just the guy. He worked as a technician for Verizon’s Global Communications Division, spending 30 years in their employ. Helping maintain its long distance services control room led to him being stationed on the 110th floor of Two World Trade Center.
A windowless room that served as his workspace deprived him of what would have presumably been a tremendous view. But he had a job to do which would have precluded staring adoringly at his adopted hometown’s skyline. His contributions to functionality helped people connect without them ever knowing who he was. If you have ever been grateful for the ability to instantly phone a loved one or be in touch with a satellite office, thank people like Leonard.
Hard work is most rewarding in a city that’s personally agreeable. One doesn’t have to be born a New Yorker to become one. The man from Virginia resided in Brooklyn in a location decision that reflects an auspicious willingness to chart one’s own course.
The transplant found what he was looking for in the city, particularly in its endless cultural events. Details from Leonard’s life indicate he knew the nobleness of experiencing beauty created by humans. A collector of West African art, Leonard also loved attending Lincoln Center’s ballets and operas. He had himself been a dancer and availed himself of the opportunity to see the world’s best performers sing and pirouette just a subway or taxi ride away.
The desire to take advantage of Gotham’s endless opportunities for aesthetic endeavors is common among those who pursue life within its confines. There is boundless enthusiasm among those who become New Yorkers, as they bring an appreciation of the vibrant world to which they elected to join. They know where they want to finish regardless of where they started.
Anyone who likes the city enough to relocate there must overcome numerous challenges that begin with moving and continue through everyday life. After facing obstacles to a rewarding lifestyle, the boroughs’ newcomers don’t take the unparalleled vitality for granted.
Innate pioneers find themselves forging their own paths even if those close to them are comfortable near their birthplaces. Leonard was one of eight siblings. Seven of the progeny stayed in Richmond. But he was drawn to a city that attracts a certain type of vigorous personality. Leonard lived on his terms, including the discovery that he felt right in a place more than 300 miles from where he was born.
Despite setting off to find personal treasures elsewhere, he remained close to his family. The physical gap didn’t separate him emotionally from relatives who felt cozy in their native state. Paying college tuition for nephews and nieces was a kindly sign that he was supportive of relatives no matter where he was based.
He brings to mind a different White who made his name in New York City, namely the author E.B., who wrote in 1949 about “the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something… Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.” A Virginia native found much to love in a ceaselessly bustling city which he chose to dwell.
Leonard was one of 11 people with the surname White who was murdered during the September 11 atrocities. He lost his life at age 57 having thrived in the city he adored yet with so many future opportunities for joy and fulfillment taken away. We must remember to feel blessed that he achieved so much to emulate and use it to be inspired during our time here. With Leonard in mind, patronize an artist you enjoy in any medium today.
The White family has kept the departed’s memory alive. They visited the World Trade Center site in 2012, seeing where his name is preserved and his final resting place. His name will always be listed in the town he made his own.
Leonard allowed the world to communicate through his technical proficiency and embraced the arts that make life beautiful. By finding what sparked him, Leonard is an inspiration to not just New Yorkers or Americans but everyone. The quest to relish creativity in a place that brings contentment will always continue.
Originally published September 11, 2014.