Professor emeritus White passes away

Jefferson White, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Maine, passed away at his home in Westwood, Massachusetts, on March 24, 2022, at the age of 92, after a brief illness.

White retired from the university in 2010 after half a century of teaching and research in philosophy. 

After receiving a B.A. at Baylor University in Latin, Greek and English, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University, White joined the Philosophy Department at Clark University in 1961, where he later served as department chair and dean of the college, until 1972, when he was hired to chair the Philosophy Department at UMaine, a role he took on twice in his career, promoting collegiality, pluralism and diversity. 

Until his retirement, White taught a wide range of courses in the philosophy curriculum, including methods of reasoning, aesthetics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language and philosophy of law. Excellence in undergraduate teaching was at the heart of White’s career, and many hundreds of students benefited from his careful and attentive mentoring, and the example of his integrity, his careful erudition and his dedication to living the philosophical life.

He identified himself as an analytic philosopher, but was curious about other approaches, and was well versed in the history of philosophy and theology. His early research focused on idealism, and he served as associate editor of “Idealistic Studies.” In the late 1970s, after a sabbatical at Yale Law School, he turned his attention to the philosophy of law, contributing essays to the “Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory” (1996) and “The Law in America: 1607–1861” (1989).  He co-authored, with Dennis Patterson, “Introduction to the Philosophy of Law: Readings and Cases” (Oxford University Press, 1999). But his philosophical interests remained broad, evidenced by the many book reviews he wrote on topics outside the philosophy of law. 

White served the university and the state as a member of the Faculty Senate, a faculty representative to the Board of Trustees, and a member of the Ethics Committee of Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court. Moreover, he was a multisided and multitalented individual, a jazz trumpeter, and connoisseur of the fine arts, particularly music, painting, dance and literature. 

He was predeceased by his wife, Mary White, and is survived by their two sons, Geoffrey and Byron.  

At the University of Maine, White will be remembered as a great colleague and friend. Ever curious and supportive, he would regularly make the rounds of the offices in the department, for conversations about the state of one’s research or teaching, or how one’s family was doing. He frequently hosted philosophy faculty colloquia at his home, was dedicated to ongoing philosophical discourse among the faculty and students and was instrumental in promoting the department’s Visiting Scholar Program, Colloquium Series, and several annual student awards. He will be missed, but his legacy lives on in the institutional culture of UMaine’s Philosophy Department and in the hearts of those who knew him.