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Bill White, who lost a leg in the Marathon bombings, dies at 81

He walked a 1K course the next year with the police officer who helped save him

Mr. White, on Boylston Street next to the memorial for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.Andrew White

Having seen combat while serving in the Army in Vietnam, Bill White had no doubt what was in store for him as he lay on the sidewalk severely injured, not far from where the first bomb exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line in 2013.

“I knew I was going to die,” he recalled in a Globe interview two years later.

And he did, two times. A fast-thinking police officer used Mr. White’s belt to tie a tourniquet on his right leg above where he was bleeding profusely. Then he was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital, where doctors and nurses amputated part of his leg, keeping him from becoming a fatality.


“Twice,” he said. “I was brought back to life twice.”

Mr. White, who befriended and kept in touch with the others who lost all or part of one or both legs due to injuries from the Marathon bombings, died Dec. 17 in Providence Milwaukie Hospital in Milwaukie, Ore., of complications related to Alzheimer’s disease.

He was 81 and had lived in Bolton for 44 years before moving with his wife, Mary Jo, to Lake Oswego, Ore., several months ago to be closer to their son Andrew and his family.

A year after the bombings, he was among those who completed a 1-kilometer walk that the Boston Athletic Association, the Marathon’s sponsor, put on as a tribute to the survivors.

“It’s been a long year,” Mr. White told the Globe then.

He walked the one kilometer alongside Bobby Butler, the police officer who had saved his life on the sidewalk by tying the tourniquet.

“He was with me at the starting point, and he kept walking with me,” Mr. White told Rider magazine, an alumni publication of his alma mater, Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J.


“When I began to waver, he said, ‘You aren’t going to quit. You are going to finish this race,’ " said Mr. White, who became friends with Butler. “And we did.”

Finishing that 1-kilometer course was only part of what Mr. White completed in the nine years since the Boston Marathon bombings. He also learned to walk and drive again.

On April 15, 2013, he was several feet from the first bomb blast with his wife, Mary Jo, and their son Kevin, both of whom suffered shrapnel wounds.

While Mr. White was on the sidewalk, he could see how badly his leg was bleeding.

He told Rider magazine that he looked over at his wife and “asked her if she was OK, but she couldn’t hear me, because there was so much noise, so many sirens blasting.”

During his initial treatment at Mass. General, Mr. White met President Obama, who visited the intensive care unit.

Kevin White told the Globe he was visiting his father when the president arrived to say “we’re really proud of you” to those who were being treated for injuries from the bombings.

Kevin also recalled that Obama told his father: “We heard that you don’t give up easily.”

Mr. White was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal for his service in Vietnam, his family said.

Still, as he began rehabilitation, he initially was uneasy about using a prosthesis to walk, after the lower part of his right leg was amputated.

“I just took it off and threw it in a corner,” he recalled later for “One Fund, Many Stories,” a multimedia presentation. I said: ‘I can’t do this. It’s just not going to work.’ "


Eventually, with his family offering encouragement, he kept trying.

“I tell people you kind of have two choices,” he said in a Globe interview two years after he was injured, while he was undergoing rehabilitation. “Give up or heal yourself. Getting healed is not an event. It’s a process.”

One of three siblings, William Vincent White III was born in Orange, N.J., on July 4, 1941, and grew up in Short Hills, N.J.

His father, William Jr., was a fire chief, and his mother, Elizabeth Tansey White, was a homemaker.

Mr. White graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree from Rider University.

In an essay for Rider magazine, he said that after graduation, he took a test for officer candidate school, which he attended in Georgia before being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army infantry.

At 22, he was sent to South Vietnam as an adviser to the country’s troops. Reassigned as a platoon leader with the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, he led soldiers in combat as a first lieutenant, and said he saw “heavy fighting” that left him with shrapnel wounds.

Returning to the United States, he worked at Bankers Trust Co. in New York City and used the GI Bill to pay for his master’s in business administration studies at Fordham University.


He worked for a couple of firms in New York and met Mary Jo Powers. They married in 1972 and moved two years later to the Boston area, where he worked in strategy consulting and she was a research associate and project manager at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester.

“The loss of my leg in the Marathon bombing in 2013 was without a doubt a life-changing event,” he wrote for Rider magazine.

“The hardest part for me was to see the faces of my wife and two sons when they came into my hospital room,” he added. “I could see their thoughts: Will he ever recover? Will he ever be normal again? What’s going to happen with our family and home?”

A service has been held for Mr. White, who in addition to his wife, Mary Jo, and son Andrew, leaves a sister, Betty Condor of San Francisco, and a grandson.

Mr. White’s other son, Kevin, died in 2015.

Andrew said his father “was an avid reader” who helped raise funds for the Bolton Public Library. Mr. White also coached youth soccer teams and was involved with Bolton Hometown Heroes, which works to honor the town’s veterans.

He loved being in Bolton,” Andrew said.

Mr. White remained in contact with many people who had been injured by the bombings. In his essay for Rider magazine, he wrote about how his injuries gave him a clear perspective on how life changes for those with disabilities.


“If I can offer a comment about the amputee life I’d like to do so. To borrow a phrase from Kermit the Frog, ‘It’s not always easy being green,’ " he wrote in Rider magazine.

“We are different. There are some things we do normally and others that require extra effort,” he said. “We stand out because we often need aids to assist us. In a world generally reserved for ‘normal’ individuals, we often are the object of stares from others (especially the young). We are not to be pitied, but rather to be treated like anyone else.”

Recalling that day a year after the bombings when he and Butler — the police officer who helped save his life — participated in the 1-kilometer race, Mr. White wrote that “the reception I received from the bystanders was something I’ll never forget. Those are the kind of things that keep us amputees moving on.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.