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John, the institution on our housing estate, ‘restored faith in humanity’

19 July, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

John White

JOHN White was like an “institution” on the New Orleans estate, his friend of more than 20 years said.

Nobody on the estate in Hornsey Rise could walk past him without being locked into a conversation.

“It was a bit of an issue if you were in a rush or late for work,” Ngoma Bishop said. “But a chat with John always brightened up your day. I think that is what motivated him. If he saw that anyone was not feeling their best, he would try and make you smile.”

The 91-year-old passed away earlier this month, leaving behind three children, Andrew, Dominic and Mary and two grandchildren, Chris and Thomas.

He was born in Ireland in 1928 but as a young man came to London to work as a labourer.

After that he became a bookmaker at a betting shop in Finsbury Park and settled on the estate with his wife Mary.

A plaque was unveiled in his honour on the estate in Hornsey Rise three years ago to celebrate his service to the neighbourhood.

He was a keen gardener who was regularly a contender in the annual Islington in Bloom awards.

One of his most valued achievements was transforming a rundown playground on the estate into a celebrated garden for everybody to enjoy.

Mr Bishop said he got to know Mr White well while they worked together on the estate’s tenants’ and residents’ association, coming up with ideas for improvments.

Mr Bishop, originally from Barbados, joked that he was born on St Patrick’s Day, March 17, so he used to spend his birthday singing old Irish tunes with Mr White.

“He enjoyed nature and life and liked to make a nice environment,” Mr Bishop added.

“He restored my faith in humanity – if that doesn’t sound too dramatic.

“With John you realised there are people who are not there to acquire wealth or climb the pole.

“He wanted you to celebrate the fact you are alive. He didn’t speak profound words but he lived in a profound way.”

Mr White was held in such high regard, the tenants’ and residents’ association at the New Orleans estate are now looking into the option of renaming the housing block he had called home after him.

Each part of the estate is currently named after a significant place or name connected to the battle of New Orleans when the Americans beat the British in the Wars of Independence back in the 18th century.

Mr Bishop said: “I don’t know if it will be possible, but we’re looking into it. John lived on the Pakenham block named after the British general Lord Pakenham.

“John actually hated all kinds of conflict, so I think there is a nice resonance in the block being renamed after him.”


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