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Remembering Pete White, Former Chairman and CEO

by on July 9, 2021

pete white obit photoPete White led American Electric Power the way he lived his life, as a service to others, and as a steady, effective chief executive officer. White, who served as chairman and CEO from 1976 to 1991, died on July 4 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. He was 94.

Described as gracious, thoughtful and a calming presence as CEO, White led AEP through some difficult and complex times, such as finalizing the purchase of Columbus and Southern Ohio Electric; the move of the corporate headquarters from New York City to Columbus; and the successful transition of the Zimmer plant project from a nearly complete nuclear reactor to a coal-fired power plant.

“The entire AEP family mourns the passing of this truly great person,” said Nick Akins, chairman, president and chief executive officer of AEP. “Pete’s dedication to his family, his profession and his community were obvious to all who knew him.

“I always enjoyed my visits with Pete. He was a walking history of AEP, and a true gentleman in every sense,” Akins said. “AEP would not be the company it is today without his steady leadership for so many years. Whenever we talked, he was always amazed by the changing environment we face, while I always marveled at what he dealt with and the amount of change during his time with the company. I will truly miss his warm personality and the rich conversations that we shared. Our hearts go out to his family.”

The Transmission Operations Center in New Albany bears White’s name. He helped cut the ribbon to dedicate the facility in 2008. Under White’s leadership the first TOC was developed at 1RP in the 1980s. White also oversaw the doubling of the miles of AEP’s 765 kV transmission lines.

He spent his entire professional career at AEP, from his start as an assistant engineer in 1948 to his retirement as chairman in 1992. He served in management roles in New York, Virginia and Ohio.

White was an assistant to Philip Sporn, who was then president of AEP, and as a promising young executive was sent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a Sloan Fellow. In 1961 he moved into management in Lynchburg, Va. – an assignment White recalled, “as satisfying a job as I ever had.” He became executive vice president and COO of Appalachian Power in 1969. White moved back to headquarters in New York in 1973 as senior executive vice president of operations.

“Everyone liked (Pete White). I don’t know anybody, anybody who didn’t like Pete White,” said John Dolan, former vice chairman and chief engineer of AEP, in the book “A Century of Firsts.”

Born in 1926 in Chesapeake, Va., Willis S. “Pete” White attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute majoring in electrical engineering. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1945 before the end of World War II. He was an amateur musician and played the trombone and piano. He was a member of Virginia Tech’s marching band and sang with the AEP choir when he worked for the company in New York. He was a supporter of the Roanoke and Columbus symphonies.

Service was a big part of White’s life outside of AEP. He was a campaign chairman for the United Way of Franklin County, chairman of the Greater Columbus Convention Center Board of Trustees, a trustee of Children’s Hospital, an emeritus trustee of Riverside Methodist Hospital, a board member of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, and a board member of OhioHealth. He was the first American chairman of CIGRE (the International Council on Large Electric Systems, headquartered in Paris), a director of several companies and organizations including the Bank of New York Mellon, Irving Trust Company, the Edison Electric Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, and chairman of the Board of Trustees of Battelle Memorial Institute. President George H. W. Bush appointed White as a private-sector representative to the U.S. Presidential Economic Delegation to Poland.

White also served on the board of the Ohio Methodist Theological Seminary, the Board of Visitors at Virginia Tech and as director of the Virginia Tech Foundation, and trustee of Randolph-Macon College. Virginia Tech awarded him the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award, the Ruffner Medal for service, and the College of Engineering’s Distinguished Service Award. The College of Engineering named its Chair for Innovation in Engineering Education in White’s honor. 

Mr. White is survived by his wife, Adele McComas White, and her children, Cathleen McComas and Patrick McComas of Columbus; his brother Norman T. White of Chesapeake, Va.; his children, Willis S. White III, of Jacksonville, Fla., Marguerite W. Spangler and her husband Dr. Pat W. Spangler of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Cynthia White-Haight of Ponte Vedra, Fla.; as well as grandchildren Dr. M. Lee Spangler, II of Waterford, Va., Nicholas W. Spangler of Brentwood, Tenn., Alexander J. Haight and Charles Z. Haight of Kent, Ohio, and two great grandchildren, Owen and Collins Spangler. In addition to his parents, his first wife, LaVerne B. White, and his sister, Doris White Jones, preceded him in death.

A Celebration of life, and burial will be held in Columbus. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to Kobacker House Hospice, Trinity United Methodist Church in Columbus, and Alive Hospice in Murfreesboro.

How do you remember Pete White? Please leave a memory in the comments.

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One Comment
  1. larrylaskowski permalink

    i remember Pete White from several Informal briefing meetings with him covering status and progress of the engineering, design and construction of various projects for the expansion of Appalachian Power Company’s 765kV system during the early 1070s in Roanoke and later at Headquarters at 2 Broadway in New York City. Mr. White had a keen interest in power generation and delivery progress at AEP including the Joshua Falls 765’/138 kv ,GIS or Gas Insulated Station. a worlds first at the time. “Pete” was always approachable in discussion and we learned a lot from him about business issues in the industry , enhancing the experience of our Engineers. His leadership was an important factor not only developing the industry’s technology but also the employees at AEP who helped implement it into the AEP system. May the Lord comfort and keep Pete White close to his heart.

    Lawrence Laskowski Electric Station Projects 2 Broadway

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