John White ’72 starts an interview like he’s beginning his opening statement in court. This time he’s advocating for Wofford College and the value of a liberal arts education.
“Even though I grew up in Spartanburg, I was a resident student at Wofford. Our father wouldn’t allow us to go anywhere else,” says White of his brothers, Lewis White ’74 and David White ’77, and their father, John White, founder of The Beacon and longtime supporter of Wofford College. “I learned so much — how to think, motivation, ethics — from the other students and what I consider one of the best faculties in the world. … I can never pay it back.”
But he has paid it forward as a loyal alumnus, donor, parent and through service on the Wofford Board of Trustees for 12 years. White and Harrison White, a firm of 10 attorneys and 35 other staff, also have supported Wofford’s pre-law program by mentoring interns, speaking to groups and taking Wofford students to lunch for candid discussions about careers in the law.
“It amazes me how bright and inquisitive and eager to learn they are,” says White.
After graduating from Wofford with a degree in biology, White did a stint in the U.S. Army, then came back to an iconic family business. Two paths were before him: business or law school. He chose the law and after earning his juris doctorate from the University of South Carolina School of Law, he returned to Spartanburg to hang his shingle, eventually becoming known as a fierce, successful litigator. White, who tends to play down his role in significant state and national litigation, has been designated lead counsel for plaintiffs in the state of South Carolina on major opioid litigation.
“Aside from who’s right and who’s wrong, America has a serious opioid crisis that crosses all socioeconomic barriers,” says White. He explains that the cost of treatment, rehabilitation, emergency room visits, EMS calls and lost income to our families, businesses, municipalities, counties, states and our country is staggering. “I’m dedicated to our litigation. … We need a road to recovery sooner rather than later.”
White says he still gets nervous when he steps into a courtroom, which for him is most days. Still, when the trial starts, he sinks into his comfort zone and relies on intensive preparation.
“The keys to being successful, not only as a litigator, but also as a person, are preparation, preparation and preparation, then execution,” says White, which brings him back to his closing argument. “Again, this ties back to Wofford. My Wofford classmates and professors wanted me to be prepared, then to execute. … Wofford’s liberal arts educational experience prepares you to leave Wofford and do something good to benefit you and benefit the world. Then it’s important to come back and share that with the college.”
By Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington '89