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Alum’s gift strengthens Spine Research Institute

John and Mary Lib White holding hands and smiling.John and Mary Lib White

Alumnus John A. White Jr. ’69 cites a quote by Teddy Roosevelt as having great influence on his philosophy of giving.

“Every person owes a part of his or her time and money to the business or industry in which he or she is engaged,” quoted White, a University of Arkansas distinguished professor of industrial engineering and chancellor emeritus. “No person has a moral right to withhold support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his or her sphere.”

During a campus visit last fall, he heard College of Engineering Dean David B. Williams talk about Bill Marras’ research and his role with The Ohio State University Spine Research Institute (SRI). When John White returned to Arkansas, he talked to his wife, Mary Lib White, about the work taking place at the institute and the couple decided to pledge $300,000 in honor of Marras, who serves as the SRI executive director.

“We have been very fortunate to have been in a position to help organizations ‘striving to improve conditions within’ our spheres,” John White explained. “Obviously, our spheres have included our alma maters. So, we have endeavored to help where help is needed.”

Added Mary Lib White, “Supporting the Spine Research Institute was a perfect match, given my spine-related physical challenges. Ohio State’s ISE department was very supportive of me, especially during the weeks surrounding the birth of our son. It will always hold a special place in my heart.”

The gift will be used to enhance the institute’s 10,000-square-feet laboratory on the recently renovated fifth floor of Baker Systems Engineering Building. Construction began in December and is expected to conclude in spring 2019.

Once complete, the new facilities will include a dedicated lab area for clinical biomechanics studies of the spine, a second high end data collection space that will enable researchers to run several complex research studies simultaneously, training space for the institute’s short courses and additional office space for ergonomics and clinical efforts.

Researchers adjust an exoskeleton for testing.Professor Bill Marras and his team adjust a workplace exoskeleton during a recent research evaluation at the Spine Research Institute.

“This generous gift from John and Mary Lib White makes it possible to complete a world-class spine data acquisition and processing infrastructure at the Spine Research Institute,” said Professor Marras, who holds the Honda Chair in the Department of Integrated Systems Engineering. “It enables the completion of a system that we would not be able to acquire in any other way. We are extremely grateful.”

The Whites’ relationship with Ohio State dates back to the 1960s when John was attracted by the reputation of its industrial engineering program and decided to pursue his PhD in Columbus.

“Even though Ohio State had one of the largest enrollments in the nation—approximately 60,000 students—it didn’t seem large because of the closeness of the faculty and graduate students in the ISE department,” John White recalled.

After graduating with his doctorate in December 1969, John White returned to the Department of Industrial Engineering at Virginia Tech, where he earned his master’s degree in 1966.

In 1977, he founded a logistics consulting firm, SysteCon Inc., which merged with Coopers & Lybrand in 1984. He has served as a consultant to AT&T, Briggs & Stratton, Burlington, Coca-Cola, Corning, DuPont, Federal Reserve Bank, Ford, IBM and the U.S. Navy, to name just a few. He also served as dean of Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Engineering.

A member of the National Academy of Engineering, John White has returned to Ohio State’s Columbus campus several times during his career, including a 1984 visit to receive a distinguished alumnus award from the ISE department and in 2017 when he received the College of Engineering’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in recognition of his outstanding professional achievement.

“Throughout our marriage, Mary Lib and I have supported our church and numerous organizations,” he said. “As chancellor of the University of Arkansas, I felt it was important to lead by example. I did not believe I should be asking others to provide financial support for their alma mater if I were not doing so.”

Ohio State is one of many universities forced to rely heavily on private support in order to provide an educational experience of the highest quality for its students, added John White.

“Being an Ohio State graduate opened many doors for me,” he said. “My doctorate not only equipped me to excel academically, it placed me in the company of a number of highly respected individuals within industrial engineering. I was most fortunate to have been in the ISE department during the 1960s—to be mentored by David Baker, Al Bishop, Dick Francis, Walt Giffin, “Doc” Lehosky, Bill Morris, Tom Rockwell and George Smith, among others. The foundation they provided has served me well throughout my career.”

edited version of the article that appeared in BuckISE