Longtime Loudoun clergyman, former newspaperman, historian, lover of words and all-round character, the Reverend Elijah “Lige” Brockenbrough White III died Saturday evening at home and with his family.
He was the rector emeritus of the Church of Our Saviour Oatlands, a parish, over which he had presided for more than 30 years, and a descendant of Elijah V. White, a noted Loudoun Confederate cavalry leader who formed the Laurel Brigade and who became a successful businessman after the Civil War.
The funeral is scheduled for Friday, April 1, at St. James Episcopal Church on Cornwall Street in Leesburg. The service will begin at 11 a.m.
Lige White was born May 2, 1938, in Washington, DC. His brother Nicholson “Nick” White followed four years later, then a sister Mary, in 1943. They were the children of prominent Loudoun attorney E.B. White Jr. and Elizabeth Hoyt White.
Nick White, a retired Episcopal minister now living in Charlotte, NC, recalled their childhood.
Their father was born in Leesburg, at the corner of King and Cornwall streets, so the children were raised there. They also spent much of their childhood at Selma, the grand house on Rt. 15 north of Leesburg built by an earlier White in 1902.
E.B. White Jr. was a lawyer and economist who served in the U.S. Army. “When he was being shipped overseas, he parked his family in Leesburg, where every old lady in town used to take care of us,” Nick White recalled.
From the beginning, Lige White had a way with words. “He never forgot anything,” his brother said this week. He noted, that just days before he died, White was reciting “Kipling from [memories of] his childhood.”
That love of words, poetry and drama was there from the start.
“On Lige’s 10th birthday at the dinner table, we gave as a present to our parents a recital of Act III of Julius Caesar,” Nick recalled.
It was a family trait. “Our father always had a Webster’s unabridged dictionary on a rolling stand at his seat at the table, so it was right there to check,” Nick White said.
Leesburg, back in the 1940s and 1950s, was a simpler and smaller town. “When we were raised there, there were 2,220 people—and every old lady knew us—and reported on us,” Nick White said.
Lige went to boarding school—to Asheville School for Boys in North Carolina, where on graduation day, his brother recalled the headmaster eventually got tired of recalling Lige to the podium to receive yet another prize—for poetry, drama or some other activity—so much so that he ordered him to “just stay here.”
Calling his brother academically “very bright,” Nick White said it was a family friend, Huntington Harris who recommended that he go Haverford College. “It was a Quaker college, and he loved it.”
Lige White graduated in 1959. He spent a couple of years at the University of London, King’s College; at the British Museum; and studied medieval Latin. Later, he spent time at the University of California at Berkeley, earning a master’s degree in English.
At one time, White dabbled in the newspaper business, serving as the sports editor for the Loudoun Times-Mirror, before becoming its editor in the mid-1960s, at the suggestion of the newspaper’s legendary Miss Fanny Reed, the namesake of today’s Francis Hazel Reed Elementary School.
Academics and the church were two clear passions in his life.
He served as an acolyte at St. James Episcopal Church in Leesburg in his youth. While attending the Virginia Theological Seminary from 1965 to 1968, where he earned his bachelor of divinity degree, he occasionally came out on Sundays to fill in for services at the small Our Saviour’s Church at Oatlands.
Lige White was ordained to the ministry, first as a deacon in 1968 then a priest in 1969. That year, he and his first wife, Camden, moved to Fiji for two years in missionary work, serving several congregations. He became dean of the theological college in Suva, Fiji, where he taught Greek and Hebrew. At the time, he said going about barefoot was being blessed.
Nick White recalled, “He wrote our parents, saying ‘please send golf shoes—I need the spikes to scamper up steep, muddy banks, to get to the missions.’”
On his return, he served as an assistant rector at various rural parishes in Fauquier County before dropping out of parish ministry for a while, until he became rector of Our Saviour’s Church at Oatlands in 1977. Two years later, in 1979, he married noted horsewoman and preservationist Anita Graf.
The small church south of Oatlands Plantation became a center for those favoring a conservative doctrinal approach. A staunch adherent to traditional Biblical teaching, Lige White led his parish out of the Episcopal Church in 2007 because of what he saw as the church’s abandonment of orthodoxy.
After shepherding the parish through the turbulent years of the split from the Diocese of Virginia, Lige White retired in 2011. His successor stayed for one year, so White agreed to return as interim rector until the Reverend Jim Basinger arrived as rector on Oct. 1, 2013.
He was instrumental in helping the parish find a new home as membership had expanded during the past five years.
“He and Anita supported finding a new location,” Basinger said. White went looking for a site and bought a former Christmas tree and vineyard at auction, about a mile farther north on Rt. 15. The new church building is under construction.
As rector emeritus, Basinger said, White “was most helpful—it was like having a mentor. He was a repository of all institutional knowledge in the parish—of people past and present.”
In a statement that would surprise no one who knew Lige White, Basinger said, “He had a remarkable mind for dates. He knew everyone’s anniversaries as well as the anniversaries of important events.”
“He lived a very interesting life. He was a dear, cranky and loving person,” his brother said Monday.
Lige White is survived by his daughters Rebekah McCarthy of Round Hill and Spilman White of Dowelltown, TN; brother the Reverend Nicholson White and his sister Mary Jordan Snidow of Richmond.
A Stained Glass Window fund has been established by The Church of Our Saviour and the White family to honor the ministry of Elijah B White III for his 34 years as Rector of The Church of Our Saviour.
The fund will enable the church to replicate the stained glass window at the historic Oatlands church at its new building which will be completed in the next two months.
Contributions for the Window Fund can be sent to: The Church of Our Savior, P.O. Box 1237, Leesburg, VA 20177