Drowned man remembered

Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2002

For years Dana White watched ships pass him by - writing down their dimensions, documenting the lives of those on board, memorializing their existence with inky permanence and capturing for posterity what he loved about the sea.

White was found dead in Gastineau Channel near Marine Park on Saturday morning.

Friends said that if White had to die, at least it happened where he loved to be.

"I just keep thinking how horrible it was for him to die all by himself and what he must have gone through at the end," said friend Jeanette Miller, who with her husband Ron befriended White when he was a deckhand on the tugboat Ethan B in the late 1980s. "Although in some ways, if he had had his choice of ways to go, if he had to be taken, it's fitting that it was by the ships and the water he loved. ... The sea was his one true love."

Police said the circumstances of White's death are still unknown, but foul play is not suspected. Autopsy results on the 45-year-old man's body are not expected for several weeks.

White's daughter Rachel, 20, said the water was where her father was most comfortable.

"It was just a neutral place for him to be," she said. "He could just sit and be quiet and feel peaceful.

"I'll miss how interesting it was to talk to him," she said. "He'd cook for me all the time - the first time I ever ate lobster was with him - and we'd sit and talk about all his fishing stories and his log books."

White would sit for hours in Marine Park watching ships come into port with pencil and pad in hand, Miller said.

"He kept a daily journal," she said. "He would write down everything. He kept track of tonnage, names of cruise ships, he knew all the dimensions of all the ships and how many passengers were on board.

"He'd reflect on old entries as kind of a record of what he'd seen and where he'd been. After he was injured he would draw these things."

About 10 years ago White's seafaring career was cut short by a street brawl where a man beat him so severely he suffered extensive brain damage, said Dan Austin, executive director of the St. Vincent De Paul Society in Juneau and a friend of White.

"He had pride," said Austin. "I met him when he'd pick up food baskets and things. He never complained and never made excuses because of his disability. He worked really hard to take care of himself and be self-sufficient."

Through rehabilitation, White was able to move from a group home into his own apartment and volunteered with the Coast Guard watching for polluters from the dock, Austin said. He also developed a talent for drawing.

"About a year ago we convinced him to do a coloring book of his drawings," Austin said. "He'd sit in Marine Park and make line drawings of the ships coming in. He had trouble with mobility because of his injury, but he had this fantastic talent. He never lost his talent."

Because of his injuries, White suffered grand mal seizures, which cause a person to convulse and lose consciousness, Austin said. Last summer while sitting on the dock on a sunny day, he had a seizure.

"He told me he saw the sun reflecting off the water and just felt it coming, but there was nothing he could do," Austin said. "Then someone came along, rolled him and stole his money while he was laying there.

"He took the lumps life gave him and was kind and gentle despite everything he'd been through," Austin said. "His disability broke his heart because he'd never be on a boat again. When he was on a boat was the time he felt most alive. ... (But) he never saw himself as a victim. He never stopped trying."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.



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