Illustrator, painter, cartoonist Rob White dies at 70


New Suffolk resident Rob White, a man of myriad talents — ranging from painting, to illustrating, to editorial cartooning, to landscape architecture and substance abuse counseling — died Wednesday, Nov. 4, at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead. He was 70. 

The cause of death was mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, according to his wife, Kate Altman, who survives him.

Mr. White may be best remembered locally as an award-winning editorial cartoonist for The Suffolk Times and its sister publications, The News-Review of Riverhead and The Shelter Island Reporter. His cartoons, which appeared in the newspapers mostly in the 1980s and ’90s, were honored on many occasions as the best in the state by the New York Press Association.

His attachment to the North Fork began as a young man, when he came to Cutchogue during the summer months to work on the fruit farm of his late aunt and uncle, Anne and John Wickham. He moved here permanently in the early 1970’s, when one of his first assignments was to illustrate a wine bottle label for the fledgling Hargrave Vineyard. Many years later, when his paintings were featured at the Jedediah Hawkins gallery in Jamesport, vineyard co-founder Louisa Hargrave surprised him with several bottles bearing copies of the original label. “Rob was touched. That was really sweet,” Ms. Altman said this week.

Rob White was born in Philadelphia, Pa., on August 22, 1945, the son of Kendall White and Margaret Lupton White, who survives him. His mother had been born and raised in Mattituck and was related through marriage to the Wickhams.

The family moved to Ithaca, N.Y., when Rob was an infant, and in later years lived in Westfield, Mass., and Chagrin Falls, Ohio.

He studied landscape architecture at Cornell University in Ithaca, graduating in 1967, and was working in that field a few years later in Ohio when he was contacted by a college friend, singer-songwriter Harry Chapin. It seemed Mr. White and Mr. Chapin both had sung in a Cornell a cappella group, the Sherwoods, and folk singer wanted to know if Mr. White wanted to join him on the road. He did, and for the next few years he served as Harry Chapin’s sound man and road manager, according to Ms. Altman.

Most notable, however, was Mr. White’s role as Mr. Chapin’s illustrator, as he supplied all the drawings for Mr. Chapin’s 1975 book, “Looking…Seeing — Poems and Lyrics by Harry Chapin.”

In addition to his work as an editorial cartoonist, in his years on the North Fork Mr. White was employed as a landscape architect and substance abuse counselor at Eastern Long Island’s Quannacut unit.

Mr. White painted steadily beginning in the 1990’s, but only had an opportunity to paint full time after he retired two years ago due to his illness, according to his wife. And he continued to paint up until a month before his recent hospitalization, she said.

In addition to his wife and mother, who divides her time between Cutchogue and Bradenton, Fla., Mr. White is survived by a son, Gregory White; a stepdaughter, Emma Rose Mead; two stepchildren from a previous marriage, Marci and Ryan McDermott; a brother, Kendall, of Cleveland, Ohio; and two sisters, Peggy Gravelle, of Oshkosh, Wisc., and Susan White, of Bradenton. He was preceded in death by his father and his brother, Ted.

Arrangements are under the direction of the Coster-Heppner Funeral Home of Cutchogue. In addition, Ms. Altman said she is planning a “big party” to celebrate her husband’s life in the near future.