Michael Morton remembered Chris White at the Tenth Anniversary Celebration of Chris White Gallery and Shipley Lofts. That celebration took place on March 11, 2022, two years late because the COVID-19 pandemic had put so much on hold.
The Chris White Community Development Corporation has asked me to share some thoughts with you today about its namesake, Chris White.
I want to start by thanking each of you for attending this celebration and for supporting the Shipley Lofts Apartments for Artists and the Chris White Gallery.
Thank you, Mr. Mayor, and other honored guests, for attending tonight.
I start my comments by asking you to take a moment to look at the photograph below. Somehow, someway, Chris White envisioned where you stand tonight when he looked at the reality of that 5-story dilapidated building.
Initially not many others shared his passion, his drive, his heart for this building and what it could mean for the artists that would live here, for the community, and for the City of Wilmington. All of those attributes grew out of his unending compassion for others. It was that compassion that fueled his commitment to seeing this wonderful heartbeat of the city through from that picture to its later opening. He had a vision for this safe haven for housing and artistic displays. His commitment to this building was infectious and others saw the possibilities where once there had only been disrepair and dilapidation.
Chris had a passion for life and an overriding commitment to the service of others. His compassion drove him forward on this project when others would have surely admitted defeat.
The way Chris approached life reminds me of an old English saying … he was like a dog on a cuff. This is to say that he was like a small dog on the cuff of a pair of pants, who has bitten into the cuff of the pant leg and simply will not let go, in fact he cannot let go.
He was that passionate about this building and what it could mean to so many people.
His showed his commitment to housing issues by his determined approach to the rehabilitation of what is now known as the Shipley Lofts. This project was plagued by multiple complicated issues on land use, zoning compliance, funding (as always) and many other issues. But the project moved ever forward, step by difficult step, because of his character, because his compassion was infectious!
He would repeatedly seek out advice on how he might solve a new issue, whether it be parking requirements, occupancy requirements or a plumbing or design issue. He immersed himself in the minutia of the entire project.
Now, more than 10 years later, this community is celebrating the opening of Shipley Lofts, the fulfillment of his dream of affordable safe inner-city housing.
Over the years, we talked many times about justice and God’s role and Chris found encouragement to continue his efforts in these verses…
“woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressors of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless”
—Isaiah 10 (1-2)
This is truly a remarkable combination which is seldom seen in today’s society. Chris, more than anyone I have ever met, always simply “let his yes be yes and his no, no.” (Matthew 5:37)
He made a difference,
He left a permanent impression on so many people and on this wonderful safe harbor.
So how will we remember this passionate, committed man?
This man of integrity who had a wonderful sense of humor.
This beacon of light in our lives. Well… this building is named after Chris for a reason, so that in the years to come people will ask the inevitable question, who was Chris White? Hopefully, those of you who never knew Chris will now have a better idea of who he was and the role he played in making this building, this unique concept a reality.
What would Chris have said he wanted us to be doing today?
He would have wanted us to keep his passions for this building alive. He died on the street out front trying to get this building completed.
Chris did not seek out publicity, nor did he want it. He simply wanted to better our lives and in particular the lives of those the system so often casts aside. In fact, he was far too humble to have been comfortable to have heard any of this.
He simply wanted us to care more for each other and because of him I believe we do. This building and the Chris White Development Corporation is a lasting memory of what we can do!
—Michael Morton, March 11, 2022
[Michael P. Morton is a founding partner of Morton, Valihura & Zerbato Attorneys at Law specializing in real estate in Wilmington, Delaware.]