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Donald White; ‘idea man’ of family’s frozen food empire

In the 1960s, Donald White and his brothers bought and expanded Hendries Ice Cream and New England Frozen Foods. In the 1960s, Donald White and his brothers bought and expanded Hendries Ice Cream and New England Frozen Foods.
By Jeffrey Fish
Globe Correspondent / September 27, 2010

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Donald W. White, a prominent businessman in the ice cream and frozen foods industry, died of pneumonia Sept. 1 in South Shore Hospital in Weymouth. He was 80.

Mr. White, who lived in Scituate, was born in Boston and grew up in Milton, graduating from Milton Academy in 1947. He received his bachelor of science degree in business management from Babson College in Wellesley in 1950 and his MBA from Cornell University in 1951.

From 1951 to 1954, he was a first lieutenant in the Air Force, serving in the Korean War.

“He lit up a room,’’ said his son Brad of Marshfield Hills. “He was very polite, brought up the old-school way. His interest was always in the other people in the room, to learn about their background. He always found out how he could assist’’ people with what they needed.

Mr. White’s father, Allan, died in 1950, leaving his older son, Allan Jr., to take over the family’s business, White Brothers Milk Co. in Quincy. Mr. White joined his brother in 1954, followed a short time later by their younger brother Robert.

The company was the first to pasteurize milk in New England, according to Brad, and a picture of Mr. White at 11 months old was used on milk bottles, carriages, and delivery trucks.

The brothers bought and expanded Hendries Ice Cream, Inc. of Milton in 1961 and New England Frozen Foods of Southborough in 1966, propelling them to become the region’s largest purveyor of frozen foods, said Brad. They bought seven competing ice cream companies in the process, but sold Hendries to H.P. Hood in 1989.

New England Frozen Foods streamlined the process of distributing frozen food to supermarkets, Brad said. Instead of multiple truckloads of food coming from different companies to a supermarket every day, New England Frozen Foods brought the entire food supply a supermarket needed in one load. The company was sold to C&S Wholesale Grocery Inc. in Brattleboro in 1997. Allan White Jr. died in 2002.

Mr. White was the idea man, his brother Robert said, signing licensing deals with national brands such as York Peppermint Patties, Nestle Crunch, and Welch’s bars.

Mr. White “provided the imagination,’’ said Robert. “When you’re in ice cream, you have to come up with something new all the time. That’s why it’s called a novelty.’’

Mr. White married Elaine Knapp in 1953; they divorced in 1969. She died in 2006. He met his second wife, Pauline (Gladu) through her father, Armand, who owned a friendly competitor, Peter Pan Ice Cream in Rhode Island. Mr. White and Pauline married in 1970.

“He was a very calm person, very intelligent, and an excellent conversationalist,’’ said Pauline, who remembered their globe-trotting. Mr. White traveled to every continent except for Australia. He enjoyed hunting during his travels, she said.

Mr. White, a Dana-Farber Cancer Institute trustee, was a cofounder of the Scooper Bowl, an annual event that raises money for the Jimmy Fund.

Retired Navy Captain Bill McCarthy met Mr. White at an air show in Weymouth, where the latter was raising money for the Jimmy Fund. The two raised funds together and became friends.

“He was an extremely honorable person,’’ said McCarthy, who added that Mr. White always wanted to help people. “It was not just about doing something nice for someone, but doing the right thing’’ for that person.

“He was interested in the results of his giving,’’ he said. “He wanted to know that what he was doing made a difference. The more he saw that [what he did] was productive to a family, the more it inspired him.’’

McCarthy added that Mr. White was personally interested in the lives of his employees and their families.

Brad said that Mr. White loved those who worked for him, which is why many of their careers spanned decades. Holiday turkeys were delivered to the homes of employees each year, along with a custom-made ice cream treat, he said.

He was also on the board of trustees of Babson College and the director of Cornell’s Personal Enterprise and Business Management program advisory council.

Mr. White was an honorary member of the Scituate Harbor Yacht Club, the Scituate Country Club, the Scituate Rod and Gun Club, New England Corinthians, the Scituate Knights of Columbus, and the American Legion. He was a member of the Scituate Etrusco Association, Ducks Unlimited, and Saint Mary’s Parish in Scituate.

He was fascinated with naval maritime history in the period from 1775 to 1815, and enjoyed classical music, photography, sailing, skiing, tennis, and collecting bronze sculptures.

“He had so much drive and so much energy; he knew everything about everything,’’ said Pauline. “He was an honorable man.’’

In addition to his wife, Pauline, son Brad, and brother, Robert, Mr. White leaves four other sons: Donald W. Jr. of Marshfield; Dominic of Portland, Maine; Donald A. of Summit, N.J.; and Adam of Weymouth; a daughter, Cynthia, of Scituate; and four grandchildren.

Services have been held.

■ Correction: Because of a reporting error, yesterday’s obituary on Donald White omitted the name of Mr. White’s surviving sister, Audree Parr of Erie, Pa.

Jeffrey Fish can be reached at jfish@globe.com.