Winston White may be gone, but not forgotten in the Big Land
Many people across Labrador were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of a true “son of Labrador.”
Winston White — a former radio host, and much beloved songwriter, storyteller, and author — passed away on June 13 after a battle with cancer.
The 72-year old had been living in St. John's for the last few years.
White was an Inuk elder from the north coast of Labrador, and was widely respected across all of Labrador, and across all cultures.
Peter Penashue, the former MP for Labrador, was a personal friend of White's for many years.
"I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Winston White and I want to send my condolences and sympathies to his family and friends,” said Penashue.
“I don’t have to tell you what a decent, wonderful, caring man Winston was. He was very proud of his Inuit heritage. He certainly didn’t mind sharing his vast knowledge of the people of Labrador to newcomers or visitors.”
Penashue said when his father — Innu elder Francis Penashue — died last year, White was one of the first people to call to offer support and encouragement
“I appreciated that very much,” he said. “Winston was a great Labrador man. He loved the land, he loved the people, and was always ready to give his time to contribute. He will be sorely missed by those who knew him."
White was also a prolific writer, having written a guidebook called Labrador: Getting Along in the Big Land in 2003, and most recently was a regular columnist for Labrador Life magazine, a quarterly publication based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
“He wrote a regular column called 'Tales from the Big Land,' a term he coined and was very forthright in letting people know,” recalled Bert Pomeroy, editor/publisher of Labrador Life.
“I think that was an appropriate title for his column. He was very knowledgeable about historical, first-hand accounts of various events that took place over the years, and a lot of the topics he touched on would never have been written down otherwise. He was very well-received and appreciated as a contributor, and from that perspective, he will certainly be missed.”
Pomeroy also noted White was very much a true Labradorian.
“He always put the people of Labrador first and foremost,” he said. “He made sure Labrador interests were protected, always wanted to make sure everyone knew the issues and challenges Labrador faced, and that was reflected in just about everything he did.
“He was so proud of Labrador — its people, land and history. His passing is definitely a big loss, for sure.”
Another friend of White's was John Hickey, a former MHA for Lake Melville. He's known White since he was a small child.
“Winston was a part of my childhood,” noted Hickey. “He was a friend of my family since I was about 6-7 years old, when we were living at Twin Falls. This was in 1962, and there were about 15 families living there at the time.”
Hickey said White was very “community minded,” even back then.
“I remember there was a rink behind the school. Winston would put on his skates and shovel off the rink so we could play a game of shinny hockey. After he left Twin Falls and went to work at CBC, we used to listen to him on the radio all the time.”
Hickey said although the two stayed in touch over the years, they really got to know each other again in 2003 when Hickey got into provincial politics.
“He came on as my executive assistant. I was very happy to take his name to the Premier's Office, to ask to have him as my executive assistant. He knew so many people in Labrador, and was so well-liked — from north, south, east and west.”
Hickey said he attributes their great personal and working relationship to wanting the best for Labrador.
“We had a mutual love and respect for the people of Labrador. We both had a vision that we wanted to make it a better place.
“Winston was well-liked throughout the province; he was known far and wide. I remember during the time of the consultations for the Northern Strategic Plan, he played a key role in that whole piece, getting people’s views. He was always giving me — and government — good advice. He had a real love for the aboriginal cultures not only in Labrador, but across the country.”
Hickey said White's death is a great loss to Labrador and he will be sadly missed.
“He was a man of many talents. He always had a great story. He was a real people person. I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to his family.”
Nunatsiavut President Sarah Leo said Labrador will always have a special place for White, just as he had for his native land.
“Winston was a true son of Labrador,” she stated in a press release. “He was a well-known figure throughout the region, particularly Nunatsiavut, and was very passionate about Labrador and especially his Inuit roots.”
White previously worked as director of communications with the Labrador Inuit Association, playing an integral communications role leading up to the initialing of the agreement-in-principle for the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement.
“Winston had a deep connection with his father’s homestead, a place he would frequent from time to time,” noted Leo. “In fact, he was a strong advocate for having the homestead declared as a heritage site and, at one time, was actively pursuing interested parties to make it a reality.
“On behalf of the Nunatsiavut government and Labrador Inuit, I want to extend deepest condolences to Winston’s family and many friends,” said Leo. “He will be sadly missed, but fondly remembered.”