My father, Lamar White, Sr., passed away fifteen years ago today. I’ve written about him before on these pages, but the fifteenth anniversary seems like a significant enough milestone to revisit his life and to reflect on the ways in which he continues to animate and inspire my own life. Every now and then, one of his friends will find me on Facebook and mistakenly believe they’re connecting with him, and every now and then, I’ll have to break the news to them, even a decade and a half later. We not only share the same name; we also share the same community, the same passions, and the same love for Louisiana.

My dad lived big and dreamed even bigger. Privately, he talked about running for the U.S. Senate one day, writing a book, and most audaciously, singing a solo in front of his church, First United Methodist of Alexandria, Louisiana. If he had lived long enough and gotten his life together, he could have done all of those things and much more.

As a high school student, he was valedictorian of his class, the quarterback of his football team (who bragged that he set a school record for fumbling in every single game), a champion in speech and debate events, and an enormously talented singer in the Alexandria Senior High School choir, also know as an Alexandrian. In college at SMU, he played on the golf team with the late, great Payne Stewart. When Stewart won the 1999 US Open in North Carolina after an iconic putt, my father rushed the 18th green and somehow managed his way down into the locker room. Stewart died in a plane crash only a year later, and my father died the following year.

Dad’s life was cut short on February 3, 2001, when, at the age of 41, he wrecked his car into two pine trees directly behind our family home, after losing control of a bend in a road named Horseshoe. My father was enormously successful in his short time on this planet: He built subdivisions and bought a slew of apartment complexes, along with his family, all across the state. He and my mother hosted the first-ever real estate television show in Central Louisiana history, titled “A Showcase of Homes;” today, an entire network is dedicated to that programming. He also quietly invested in a slew of small, single-family homes around town, many of which he owner-financed for people who could not otherwise receive a loan from the local bank.

He was always a good and decent man, a man beloved and respected by his community and his colleagues, a deep thinker, an intellectual, a lover of wisdom, the kind of person who would read a good book, like Man’s Search for Meaning, and then purchase 100 copies to distribute to everyone he knew.

But he was also a man plagued by his own demons of alcoholism and addiction, demons he could never fully shake.

The day after he passed away, a close family member told me I would no longer legally be required to call myself “junior.”

“No way,” I said, “I’m always Lamar White, Jr.” I consider it an honorific, a lasting tribute to a great but flawed man.

I don’t know if I’ll ever accumulate the arsenal of goodwill and good acts that he collected in his short life. He set a high mark. But in the last fifteen years, I’ve learned about the endurance and the fluidity of grief and human empathy. I’ve learned that grief and profound sadness are healthy, a manifestation of love.

I also take solace in the music my father cherished, like this from Cat Stevens:

Oh very young
What will you leave us this time?
You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while
And though your dreams may toss and turn you now
They will vanish away like your daddy’s best jeans
Denim blue fading up to the sky

Grief, even fifteen years later, lends itself to poetry and not prose. My young father, despite his teenaged children and his young bride, died on the Day the Music Died.

And in the streets the children screamed
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken

And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
And they were singing

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

Poets, keep dreaming.

18 thoughts

  1. “He was always a good and decent man, a man beloved and respected by his community and his colleagues, a deep thinker, an intellectual, a lover of wisdom…”

    Those words describe Lamar, Jr. as well as Sr.

    I never met your father, obviously, but I had one much like yours, and am the mother of adult children, so I think I can safely say that your father IS proud of you – who you are and what you have accomplished in your young life. Your father was a powerful role model and the best of him lives on in you. Your readers have a window into your soul and your drive to make Louisiana better.

    Thanks to Lamar, Sr., for his contributions to the good of our state and community, and for raising a son with similar passion. Thank you, Lamar, Jr., for your eloquence, your willingness to share your thoughts about your father, and your willingness to carry on the good work of your father.

  2. Thank you for this fantastic memorial for your father, Lamar. I’m always curious about families with addiction disease; my own father seemed to have survived alcoholism late in life but died from cancer shortly thereafter.

  3. Loved that sweet guy so much. I ALWAYS got a precious hug from him and he would say “I love you”. Your tribute to him is real and true. He was larger than life in lots of ways, unfortunately having to deal with his own infirmities.

  4. A tremendous tribute Lamar to a marvelous guy. While not in the BF range, I got to hang with Lamar Sr a lot but never enough not only at FUMCA but at the Bentley bar and often at civic gatherings. You probably won’t remember but Grandma Joanne was often gracious to include me during my 5 years at FUMC at family gatherings. I was always in awe of the accomplishments of your dad and uncles at such early ages. An outstanding family you have. All of them! But at each gathering I was more often drawn to Lamar and, though 9 years older, there was most often more there of common interest. And he did have a talented voice! Your dad was a great source of information and confidence in buying my first home in Alex and the Whites were more than generous in that adventure and setting up house. The more difficult parts of Lamar’s journey came after my leaving but Joanne kept me posted knowing my regard for Lamar. My prayers are with you and your mom and siblings in these days. And, if I may, your father would be very proud of you and your own accomplishments. He would be very pleased to say “This is my son, Lamar Jr!” You were right in keeping it that way. That you will always be!

  5. What a lovely tribute to your dad. I remember that fatal crash & feeling that it was a shame for that to happen to such a young, handsome, successful man. So sorry you lost your dad too soon.

  6. What a beautiful tribute. I remember when he died. Feeling so sad for his young family. You are his legacy of everything good and you loved him best, flaws and all.

  7. I wept. I identified–as the Adult Child of an alcoholic Father who died at 39 years of age. I imagine there is much healing for you as a result of this journey and this writing. I too have met some measures of worldly success despite losing my father to a deadly disease, but nothing would be greater than to share those experiences with my Dad. Thanks for the transparency. God Bless!

  8. I first met your father when he lived next-door to my best friend Frances Gunn. As preteens we played “Kick the Can” until the street lights came on. As my mother, Shirley Gueringer and your grandmother, JoAnn White became inseparable best friends, I grew to know your dad as part of my extended family. We were the same age & while he was singing as an Alexandrian, I was a Menardian. I saw your dad ‘s eyes light up when his date Carol would enter a room. He was so in love with your mom and everyone knew it. Your mom and I were pregnant together when you were born. I delivered a girl, Emily. I was deeply grieved when your father died. Your tribute brings me great joy. He would be overjoyed that his firstborn, could remember all of the goodness that he possessed despite his shortcomings. Thank you for this beautifully written tribute. Blessings to you and your entire family.

  9. I met Lamar when I worked for the Alexandria Board of REALTORS and later became very close to him after he was elected, president. He was so enthusiastic about all the work involved in the betterment of the community. On making a speech, it was always a masterly presentation of the facts. Even in later years, he would stop by for what he called a ” visit and hug” to talk to me about you, Lamar….. Trips to different doctors and also to the places of interest he wanted you to see and enjoy. Please know that his rare warmth of personality and beauty of character left a lasting impression with me. ………..Genny G. Kelley

  10. A remarkable and truly moving written memorial. Anyone who reads this will be brought up short and reminded who and what important. Thank you.

  11. Lamar, thanks for letting me into this side of your life. It is beatifully written and gutsy too. Recently a funeral home employee said to my cousin and me as we were preparing our uncle’s funeral service that people seem to “move on” faster nowadays. I looked him in the eyes and said, “But really they don’t.”

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