Chris White was the Executive Director at Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI) when he passed away in April 2010. His work at CLASI and on the Shipley Artist Lofts projects exemplified a career devoted to helping those who were less fortunate. Growing up the son of an Episcopal Priest on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, he developed a riotous sense of humor and a desire to help others in need.
He discovered a love for the law after college while working as a paralegal, and went to law school at Suffolk University Law School. In law school, he was drawn to public-interest law, and worked a summer in the Harvard Law Clinic serving low-income clients in the Boston area.
Chris was recruited to work at CLASI’s Dover office by then-Managing Attorney Jim McGiffin. Chris and Jim met at a one-day public-interest career program in 1991. After graduating law school, Chris left his beloved New England and moved to Dover. He threw himself into his work, excelling in all aspects of poverty law practice and was soon very involved in the community as the leader of the Delaware Coalition for the Homeless, a church youth group leader, and soccer referee.
He became especially proficient in housing law, as he felt strongly that everyone deserves access to safe, decent affordable housing. He would take on any case, no matter how difficult, if he felt his clients were being denied justice. In the course of his work, Chris also developed the ability to advocate to change laws he felt were unjust. His creativity in policy development also enabled him to become a talented fundraiser.
When Jim left CLASI to become a Family Court Commissioner, Chris was the natural choice to replace him as the Managing Attorney of the Dover Office. A few years later, Jim was hired as the Executive Director at CLASI, and he hired Chris to be his Deputy Director in charge of program and fund development. Under Jim and Chris’ leadership, CLASI’s budget nearly doubled within five years. When Jim stepped down as Executive Director, the Board of Directors followed his recommendation and hired Chris as the new Executive Director. Chris is remembered at CLASI for his relentlessly positive attitude, love of pranks, and his infectious laugh.
Chris could get along with almost anyone. One of his closest friends, Michael Morton, was often an opponent in housing cases. His ability to look past other’s opposing opinions enabled him to work with all stakeholders to forge solutions to very difficult problems. One of many illustrations of this ability is Chris’ work on the New Castle County rental housing code. As an advocate for low-income tenants, he made sure the code would protect them, but worked with people like Mike Morton to ensure the code was acceptable to landlords as well.
Another example is his work with manufactured homeowners and manufactured park owners to draft a law that enables homeowners associations to buy their parks and run their own communities. Passage of this law took many years of hard work and testy negotiation. One of Chris’ proudest moments was helping the first manufactured housing homeowners association in Delaware to purchase their park in Minquadale. By purchasing the park, the homeowners ensured that their homes would remain affordable for years to come.
Other examples of Chris’ dogged perseverance in the pursuit of justice for Delaware’s least fortunate are too numerous to list here. Shipley Artist Lofts was the final testament to his talents. Chris believed that everyone should have equal access to justice, no matter their ability to afford services, and he devoted his life to that cause. Learn more about CLASI by visiting declasi.org. To help increase access to justice in Delaware donate to the Combined Campaign for Justice, at delawareccj.org.