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    Friday, April 19, 2024

    An ode to a legend: Lee White, longtime food columnist, dies at 79

    Lee White (center) judges a pie contest in Essex with Jill Peterson, left, of Vanderbrooke Bakery and Kevin Kendall right, of (Olive Oyl's) in an undated photo.

    Note: This story has been updated to reflect that chemotherapy was never an option for Lee White.

    Lee White started writing food columns and restaurant reviews for The Day about 35 years ago and basically never quit.

    It was like clockwork: Another week, another column from Lee with a fabulous recipe and a joyful story about how it all came together.

    She made it look so easy, honestly we never thought the reviews would stop. But then in mid August I heard from Lee that she was going to take a couple weeks off. And then I finally extracted from her that she was going through a battery of tests and had been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer.

    For those who never knew Lee White, it’s hard to describe a hard-charging woman who no doubt ruffled some feathers and didn’t suffer fools gladly. Yet she exuded the joy of someone who plunged ahead despite all obstacles because she truly loved what she did.

    Everyone knew Lee White. When people thought of Lee at The Day, they thought of her, not me, a fact I would tell her often, and which seemed to surprise her.

    She had a great sense of humor and a wonderful sense of purpose that anyone who wants to be a relevant, sentient being should emulate. She had an acerbic wit and was a keen observer of baloney, of which she no doubt heard quite a bit during her time on the Groton school board.

    Yet she persevered, sure that it was a public duty she owed to the community.

    Lee White never felt sorry for herself, even in the midst of tragedies such as the loss of her beloved husband Doug over a decade ago. Lee was always ready to learn something new and try something original, right to the end, whether it was an exotic food, a new recipe or the coolest electronic device on the market.

    A few years ago, Lee survived a stroke and had a hard time writing her column, but she made a complete return to her writing career and had just recently connected The Day to Jacques Pepin for a cooking video that the world-famous chef helped us produce.

    She was an avid Connecticut Sun fan and a rabid follower of the women's UConn Husky team. She was also known to take in players for the Mystic Schooners baseball team who needed a place to stay in the summer.

    Lee White was generous to a fault, often dropping by random delicious treats to friends and even to The Day newsroom. I still have a batch of homemade strawberry ice cream she dropped off for my recent marriage celebration.

    We lost a real gem in Lee White, a person who respected and understood the importance of producing an independent newspaper in a difficult political and advertising environment. I wish we had 100 more like her.

    I didn't know until a few weeks ago that she was in any sort of mortal danger. She could not fight the cancer with chemotherapy, since her body was already beyond the breaking point.

    Still, I never expected the end to come so soon; she was a fighter, after all. A month after hearing her diagnosis, I was in Branford Hospice to tell her a last goodbye. She died late last week at the age of 79.

    Lee White was still a vital part of the community, only recently deciding not to seek re-election to the Groton school board. It’s hard to let her go, but she taught all of us the recipe of success: Be generous, reach out, and when it’s time to go, go bravely into the night.

    Lee Howard is The Day’s community editor.

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