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Paul White, at 61; shared long struggle with kidney cancer

Mr. White, with his daughter Laurie Alexander, was treated at Massachusetts General Hospital.Essdras Suarez/Globe Staff/File 2011

Paul White found weekend motorcycle trips restorative. Winding country roads unraveled, offering hidden treasures like the old barns he photographed and recreated later on sketchpads.

Then in 2003, while he was riding on the Fourth of July weekend, a deer leaped into his path. The crash sent Mr. White and his wife to the hospital.

“At that time, they told us that coincidentally, they found a huge tumor in his kidney,’’ said his daughter Laurie Alexander of Holliston. “We always say the deer saved his life. If that hadn’t happened, the tumor wouldn’t have been found, and it probably would have metastasized more quickly, and he wouldn’t have had the eight years.’’


Undergoing experimental treatments he knew would provide greater benefits to future patients than to him, Mr. White went to Massachusetts General Hospital regularly, at one point allowing a reporter and photographer from the Globe to accompany him for appointments with physicians.

Mr. White, who shared the details of his life as readily as he donated money to charities and offered time and love to his family, died Nov. 5 in his Holliston home. He was 61.

“I’ve done so well over the years with the types of chemo they’ve had,’’ Mr. White told the Globe in March. “I was always hopeful that while I was on one, they’d come up with another one.’’

On that day, nearly seven years had passed since tests showed the cancer had migrated from his kidney to his spine. Patients with metastasized kidney cancer generally do not live that long. Roughly two years is the median lifespan.

“I know what’s in store for me,’’ Mr. White said in the interview. “Why think about it? It only upsets me.’’

There were better things to think about.

“I think he really appreciated all the beautiful things life had to offer, but also the day-to-day things, like having lunch with his brother, or picking up his granddaughters from school,’’ said Kara Olivier, a nurse practitioner in Mass. General’s Cancer Center who was one of Mr. White’s caregivers since 2006. “I think he truly found great joy in the little things most of us call chores or daily obligations. They weren’t obligations to him. They were part of his beautiful everyday life that he loved so much.’’


Though cancer dominated his days, Mr. White preferred to keep the focus elsewhere. Interviews with the Globe let him use his story to give hope to other patients. Chemotherapy bought time with his family and provided information to researchers. A cure might have been impossible in his lifetime, but with a little tinkering, a dismal prognosis stretched into eight years.

A tinkerer by trade, he studied mechanical design at Worcester Industrial Technical Institute and worked at various companies before launching his own, helping to create, design, and improve casings for electronics and larger mechanical devices.

“That’s what Paul did so well,’’ his brother Ron of Holliston said in a eulogy during a memorial service Friday. “He figured things out, he made things work, and he helped people. Sometimes with a little cursing and swearing, sometimes without.’’

In a life curtailed by cancer, there was much to curse, but Mr. White was more apt to speak optimistically about how chemotherapy gave him more time with his five granddaughters and how experimental treatments would provide a foundation for patients he would never meet.


“He just felt he was doing his part,’’ his daughter said. “He kept talking about, ‘I’m doing this for the next generation.’ I can hear him saying that: ‘I’m the guinea pig for the next generation.’ ’’

“He was very selfless in that way and in so many other ways,’’ Olivier said.

Paul Joseph White was born in Chelsea and as a child lived for a few years in Watertown before his family moved to Holliston.

The oldest of four children, he graduated in 1967 from Holliston High School. Two years later, he married Elaine Elliott, and they lived in Natick for a few years before returning to Holliston.

They both grew up there, their daughter said. “It was their dream to get back to their hometown.’’

Even as a boy, Mr. White had talents he would turn into a career.

“He was always very clever and talented with figuring out how things worked or taking a broken thing and turning it into a valuable thing,’’ his brother said in an interview.

In his eulogy, he noted that Mr. White was popular among relatives partly because he could always be counted on to fix the unfixable.

“He had a ’56 Chevy that was more tank than car, and I remember riding up Norland Street with him one winter while he deliberately skidded into huge snowbanks,’’ his brother said in the eulogy. “He liked to have fun; there’s never been any doubt about that.’’


Mr. White also liked to charter the Annie-B, a fishing boat, and take family and friends on excursions off Cape Cod. And he was particularly thankful he lived long enough to buy a cottage in Westford in 2009.

“Today is a very happy day for me personally,’’ he wrote the day he bought the summer residence. “For today I closed on the cottage in Westford. I can’t believe I’ve finally done it!!!!!’’

The five exclamation points would not surprise those who knew Mr. White, who made sure exclamation points punctuated his life.

“He lived out his dreams,’’ his daughter said.

In addition to his wife, daughter, brother, and five granddaughters, Mr. White leaves another daughter, Wendy Willis of Mendon; a son, David of Hopkinton; another brother, Michael of Upton; and a sister, Karen LaPan of Medway.

“I feel blessed that he was in my life here as long as he was,’’ Olivier said, “because he was always a great reminder of enjoying the everyday parts of life.’’

In his eulogy, Mr. White’s brother Ron related that when he was the chauffeur for appointments at Mass. General, the two got to spend time together when time had become precious. There were other fringe benefits, too.

“I got to bask a little in the glow of his celebrity,’’ he said. “Everyone at the hospital knew and loved him, and it felt nice to have strangers come up to me and say: ‘Oh, you’re Paul White’s brother? It’s so nice to meet you. He’s our favorite patient. You’re so lucky to have him as a brother.’ ’’


They weren’t telling him anything he did not already know.

“I always felt lucky and very, very proud to be Paul White’s brother,’’ he said in the eulogy, “and I always will.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@globe.com.