When we remember 'Whitey' it will always begin with a smile

We haven't reached Philadelphia levels yet — they're said to have booed Santa Claus there once — but we remain hard markers in this corner of the world. Thick skin is a requirement around here, where we can find the smallest ice cube and turn it into a Titanic-sinker.

Heck, even home, home on the range, where the dear and the antelope play, the line goes that seldom is heard a discouraging word. Which presumes that, yes, discouraging words have happened occasionally there, too.

All of which made Warren "Whitey" Whitehouse the rarest of birds. Whitey made it 78 years among us and remained among our most popular sports figures. He never — even as a football official — drew any nabobs of negativity his way. A man completely loved.

Whitey died of cancer last Friday at Yale. Ginny has lost a husband, Scott and Stephen have lost a dad. Cole and Amelia have lost a grandfather. And the rest of us have lost our favorite football official, assistant softball coach, clock operator, local sports fan to everybody, proudest East Lyme resident of all and somebody whose presence made the sun shine a little brighter.

"One of the all-time greats," longtime friend Jack Barclay said of Whitey the other day.

This is where many of us knew Whitey best: on the football field. Barclay wore the white hat (the referee) among what was fondly called "the gold crew" here for many years. The crew that earned the week's biggest game. Whitey was the umpire on the gold crew. The man with the inimitable voice, a bit high pitched, in the trenches advising the kids "that's enough!" after every play.

"He was one of the two best umpires I ever worked with. Whitey and Gomesy," Barclay said, alluding to John Gomes, who, like Whitehouse, always brought his sense of humor to the field.

They loved to tease Whitey. Once, a group of officials took a limo to see the Giants play and stopped for dinner on the way home. Whitey didn't have his glasses and couldn't read the menu. So all his friends began to suggest what Whitey could order. Their suggestions were purposely not on the menu.

"It started with 'Whitey, get the onion soup,' when we knew they didn't have any," Barclay said. "So it's taking Whitey a half an hour to order because the waitress keeps saying 'we don't have that, we don't have that' every time he says something. You should have seen how hard we were laughing."

Or the times Whitey would have a hard time with math.

"He was an excellent umpire," Barclay said, "but he'd have trouble marking off penalties. A five-yarder gets marked off six. You couldn't wait for (Jim) Butler or Spreng-er (Bob Spreng) to catch that. They wouldn't stop."

Yet there was Whitey, the perfect foil.

Others knew him as the faithful assistant to Judy Deeb coaching softball at East Lyme High. Deeb is among the greatest coaches in the history of Connecticut — any gender, any sport. She always had Whitey there. Whitey's go-to line, "I don't know. You better ask the Boss Lady."

Whitey had been battling cancer for a while. He had gone from umpire to timer at football games, meaning he'd be relegated to the press box. Still, he was Whitey. White hat Kevin Moreland used to laugh at how it might take Whitey an hour to reset the clock. There's that math thing again. Once, Moreland asked for 6.9 seconds and got 69:13. Moreland stared at the press box impatiently while the rest of us were doubled over laughing.

Yet there's no one else Moreland ever wanted with him. Whitey was his guy.

Our guy.

Many of us will spend the rest of our lives missing him. We laughed with him Friday nights and Saturday afternoons we thought would never end.

Whitey takes his sense of humor, Notre Dame garb and reverence for community with him. We'll miss that voice. We'll miss him at local sporting events that didn't even involve East Lyme. A champion of the kids. As beloved as they've ever come.

It has been suggested that in such times we shouldn't cry because it's over, rather smile because it happened. It's hard not to smile at the memories Warren Dana "Whitey" Whitehouse created.

Many of us will never order onion soup again without chuckling.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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