Former New Milford First Selectman Louis C. White dies
NEW MILFORD — Former First Selectman Louis C. White, a carpenter by trade who had a passion for politics, died Wednesday. He was 82.
White, known as Lou by friends, was a member of the Democratic Town Committee for 50 years. He was born in New Hampshire, but moved to town in 1953 and joined building firm Buckingham and Schultz, where he worked as a carpenter — often seen in overalls — for several years.
In 1971, he traded in the overalls for a suit, and became “probably the best dressed selectman or mayor New Milford has ever had,” said Art Cummings, a former editor of the News-Times.
In office, White was known for his quick smiles and quick temper, coupled with a strong personality.
“He had a very accomplished six years in office,” Cummings said.
White was instrumental in converting the undeveloped and frequently flooded land near Young’s Field into a recreational facility with tennis courts and a playground, Cummings added.
“He was one strong-willed person,” he said.
Cathy Reynolds, who got her first full-time town job under White and went on to work for 10 town leaders, remembers him as a persevering character drawn into politics by the promise of making a better world.
In the 1960s, White was part of a youthful wave of town politicians, inspired by the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, Reynolds said, adding that her late husband James was, too.
“They saw JFK and they went out and wanted to do something, change the world, the town, everything,” Reynolds said.
In 1971, White ran as a reformer who would battle back sand storms whipping across Route 7 from a nearby gravel mine, and his victory was “something of an upset”, said lawyer Terry Pellegrini. Soon after White won, he told Pellegrini to “go down to town hall and register as a Democrat” so White could hire him as town attorney.
Pellegrini, then 26, complied, and served with White for several years as both town attorney and, later, a Democratic selectman.
During those six years in office, White was known for his leadership — and quick temper, Pellegrini said.
“During this initial term, Lou established himself as a frugal, albeit volatile leader. Famous for a short fuse and violent temper,” he said. “Lou, in my opinion, always had the best interests of the town in his sights. During this period New Milford adopted zoning — December 1971 — over the opposition of many of the ‘old timers.’”
White proved popular in office and won three elections before he stepped down as first selectman in 1977 to focus on his carpentry. At his workshop, the Carpenter Shop, on West Street, he continued his woodwork — historic home restoration and masterful cabinet creation — until he fell ill with cancer.
Always involved in politics, he ran for first selectman again in 1983, but lost to Clifford Chapin, whom the town’s former railroad station is named after.
Pellegrini, who also manged White’s 1975 campaign, joked that his job as campaign manager for White was easy.
“I merely had had to figure out how to turn Genghis Khan into Snow White,” he said at a 1977 retirement roast of White.
White is survived by his son Jeffery and Jeffery’s wife, Paula, and two grandchildren, all of whom live in North Carolina.
Calling hours for White will be Feb. 16, from 4 to 7 p.m., at the Lillis Funeral Home, 58 Bridge St.
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-731-3411; @bglytton