In Memoriam: The Interdisciplinary Legacy of William White (1944 – 2024)

UBC Alums William and Wayne White supported the construction of the William and Wayne Engineering Design Centre.

Distinguished UBC Alum and supporter William White (BASc’67) passed away on March 3rd, one month before his 80th birthday. An eminent investment banker, the mechanical engineer leaves an interdisciplinary legacy at UBC, having influenced and transformed the lives and careers of a generation of engineers. 
Bill and his twin brother Wayne (BASc’67) provided the support that made possible the Wayne and William White Engineering Design Centre. In 2011, the year the Faculty cut the ribbon, the EDC was the only building on the Vancouver campus designed to promote multidisciplinary work across a breadth of engineering programs. 

“An applied professional ahead of his time, Bill was both a talented investment banker and engineer,” said James Olson, Dean of UBC Applied Science. “His pioneering contributions have impacted thousands of graduating engineers, and those careers have impacted BC, Canada and the world.” 

The first in their family to attend university, Bill and Wayne White paid their tuition through summer jobs, bursaries and scholarships. In 2007, Bill and his partner Gale—and Wayne and his partner Barbara—learned of the proposed new EDC and sought to give back to UBC. 

At that time, the Whites understood that interdisciplinarity was commonplace in industry and would soon be prevalent in education. To prepare students for this reality, the EDC was outfitted with prototyping and fabrication spaces that gave students in engineering disciplines as diverse as mechanical, mining and computer engineering the chance to work and learn alongside each other. The EDC also gave engineering student teams the opportunity to leverage their learning, compete internationally and forge industry connections. 

Bill White visits the UBC Engineering Design Centre that bears his and his brother Wayne’s name

At the Centre’s launch on November 2nd, 2011, the brothers remarked: “As alumni, we recognize the great value of engineering education at UBC. We want to encourage everyone else who benefited from their time at UBC to help make sure that today’s students have similar advantages.” 

In 2016, UBC’s Centennial year—the inaugural year of the Dean’s Medal of Distinction—the Faculty selected the Whites as the first recipients for their involvement in the EDC’s development. Over the years, various deans have also sought Bill’s advice, most recently bringing his expertise to bear on several landmark Faculty projects. 

Most recently, the twins were awarded UBC Alumni Builder Awards in 2018 for their “philanthropic support and contributions to engineering at UBC and higher education in Canada.” In an illustration of his UBC Engineering pride and desire to advance the Faculty, Bill worked tirelessly to help Applied Science build connections with other alums, corporate donors, and philanthropists. 

Perhaps most importantly, Bill White’s enthusiasm for philanthropy and mentorship continues to bring together students in the EDC when their disciplines, at one time, would have taught them to stay within their fields. He saw that we cannot solve social inequity, climate change and other complex world challenges by retreating to our silos, to what is most familiar. A walk through the EDC is a reminder of his foresight and how Bill White broadened the idea of what a UBC engineering degree can accomplish.