Memory of Classmate Felled in Vietnam Inspires Scholarship 40 Years Later

March 1, 2011 | Article by R.M. Morris

Throughout Tim Whitehis career, Mike Goodrich carried with him the memory of Tulane classmate Tim White, a brilliant young civil engineer tragically killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam. Now, more than 40 years later, Goodrich has given White’s memory and legacy a permanent place at Tulane in the form of a new scholarship in his name.

"It's something I've always wanted to do in his honor," Goodrich said. "I never forgot him. He had quite an influence on my career."

Goodrich and White met in a tiny class of 12 undergraduates studying civil engineering at Tulane in the early 1960s. White, a lanky country boy from Texas and son of a geologist, had arrived at Tulane on a football scholarship, but his inclination was always academic.

Dick White, Tim's younger brother by 2 years, remembers visiting Tulane for a game and staying in his brother's dorm room. White's roommate also played football, and Dick White said his brother spent hours that night helping his teammate with his homework. The coach at the time would later say that both Tim White's own grades and his tutoring efforts raised the team's GPA, Dick White recalled.

"I'm sure if it weren't for Tim, there's a whole bunch of people that would never have graduated," said Linda White Chenoweth, Tim White's widow.

That generous spirit also characterized Goodrich's memory of his friend. The two would frequently study together and became such close friends that Goodrich was a groomsman in the White's wedding in their senior year. Afterward, Goodrich recalled, the young couple would invite him to their apartment in the married-students' dorm near the old Sugar Bowl football stadium for dinner, and more studying.

"He had a very analytical mind, able to grasp fairly complicated engineering problems," Goodrich said. "He would go out of his way to help somebody...He came from a humble background, and he was just an all-around good guy."

Those days represented a sort of idyllic student experience in New Orleans, Chenoweth recalled. While White attended classes, she worked in one of the university printing offices, and they lived a happy, meager life on her salary. Dinners were hamburger meat or chicken if they could afford meat at all, and their entertainment was free movies on campus or a 10-cent bus ride down to the quarter for beignets at Café Du Monde.

The Whites and Goodrich parted ways after graduation in 1967. Goodrich headed to law school at the University of Alabama, and White to California for his master's in engineering at Stanford and a stint working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building roads and bridges inside federal parks. He had been a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps in college, so he was called up for active-duty service in Vietnam shortly after receiving his master's.

On Dec. 23, 1969, a helicopter carrying White in Long Khanh Province crashed. He was barely three months into his tour.

"It was one of those things that will stay with me for a lifetime," Goodrich recalled. "His wife called, and I said, 'How's Tim doing?' The minute I said that, I knew he'd been killed."

"It was a very traumatic event for both of us," Chenoweth said. It never occurred to me to think that he would not come back...I guess for Mike it was kind of the same thing," she paused, "It was a thing you don't forget."

Through the years, as Chenoweth remarried and Goodrich rose to president of Alabama-based BE&K Building Group, the two stayed in touch. Memories of Tim and those modest yet joyful days at Tulane infused their conversations. They also drove Goodrich's desire to honor his friend.

Though the tragedy of White's death was deeply felt by many, it was not widely memorialized at the time. Concerned that the death of a small-town hero would become overly-politicized during the turbulent Vietnam era, White's parents turned down any ceremonies or displays of mourning for their son, though a small church the couple attended in Northern California erected a bell and steeple in his honor.

When Dean Nicholas J. Altiero of the School of Science and Engineering contacted Goodrich nearly 10 years ago, Goodrich immediately began talking about his fallen classmate, Altiero said. He promised a gift would come down the road. That discussion evolved over the years, halted during Hurricane Katrina and the school's reorganization, but Goodrich never wavered on his commitment to Tulane or to White.

"What can I do? What can I do?" Chenoweth recalled. "Anything to honor him would be fine with me, so the scholarship was wonderful." Goodrich had finally found a way to memorialize his friend.

Goodrich retired from BE&K in 2008 as its chief executive officer, and the following December, he established the Timothy C. White Memorial Scholarship Endowed Fund, pledging to grow it to $600,000. The first scholarship was awarded last semester to J.P. Greene, a second-year chemical engineering student who, like Tim, came to Tulane from Texas.

"Obviously, we're very grateful to Mike. This is a major gift for us and for our students," Altiero said. "We're particularly grateful to see a civil engineer continuing to support us at this level. We have a lot of alumni in programs that have been phased out who are continuing to support us."

"I was blown away by it," said White's brother, Dick. "I had no idea that my brother had that type of influence on someone, much less that 40 years later that person would think to turn around and do something as gracious as setting up a scholarship fund in his honor."

"He made a big impact in a short time on this earth," Chenoweth said. Now the Timothy C. White Memorial Scholarship will ensure that Tim's generous spirit and commitment to academic excellence inspire future generations in science and engineering.

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