Last week for the sixth consecutive year, the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce honored 17 businesses, community leaders and hospitality professionals for their unique accomplishments and contributions toward building a more prosperous, benevolent and inclusive region. Known as the Art of Achievement Awards, this year’s gala at the Flint Institute of Arts was especially noteworthy.
We always conclude the awards’ ceremony with the presentation of the Charles Stewart Mott Award, which honors a local citizen who has made significant contributions to the advancement and well-being of Flint & Genesee. The honoree is always someone, who, by his or her actions, carries on the traditions of businessman and philanthropist Charles Stewart Mott.
It was my privilege to present the 2019 C.S. Mott Award posthumously to the incomparable William S. White, who led the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation for more than four decades. Bill White – a giant not just in our community but also in the world of philanthropy – passed away on Oct. 9, just two days after his storied career was celebrated by the Council of Michigan Foundations at that organization’s annual conference.
Ridgway White, the Mott Foundation’s president and CEO, accepted the award on behalf of his father.
Bill White was a mentor to me for more than 30 years and one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. His mantra – “good things happen when people work in partnerships” – continues to be a source of personal inspiration as well as a guiding principle of the Flint & Genesee Chamber.
Although born in Cincinnati, Bill adopted Flint & Genesee as his hometown. Initially hired as a consultant to the Mott Foundation, he rose through the ranks of the organization to become its president and chief administrative officer in 1976. Three years later, he was named CEO.
Under Bill’s leadership, the Mott Foundation grew from a primarily local funder with assets of roughly $377 million to an internationally recognized philanthropy with assets of more than $3 billion.
But, as his son said in accepting the award, his first love was this community. Indeed, Flint & Genesee wouldn’t be what it is today without him. Bill’s list of accomplishments is long and varied, as the Council of Michigan Foundations highlighted in a moving video tribute to him, there are a couple of areas I want to highlight.
Working alongside father-in-law C.S. Harding Mott, Bill guided the foundation’s support for relocating the University of Michigan-Flint from sharing space on the campus of Mott Community College to its place along the river in downtown Flint. In doing so, UM-Flint became a key player in the community’s revitalization efforts.
He was a tireless advocate for improving the lives of the less fortunate. One of the enduring examples of this commitment is in the area of youth education and development. The foundation’s multimillion-dollar, multi-year commitment helped to seed and expand the federal government’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative. This highly regarded national program helps to provide high-quality enrichment and academic programming for 1.7 million children each year.
For these reasons and many others, Bill White was affectionately known as “Mr. After School.”
Bill White is sorely missed but his legacy lives on. As we look toward next year’s Art of Achievement Awards and beyond, I look forward to recognizing the men and women who are striving to follow in his path.
Tim Herman is the CEO of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.