What made Fred White unique, beyond the dead-on perspective, dry wit and measured tones he brought into homes throughout the Midwest, was a willingness to befriend and mentor younger broadcasters.
Even those who replaced him.
So it was with Ryan Lefebvre, the popular Royals’ broadcaster who assumed White’s chair in 1999 and spoke at his Celebration of Life on Tuesday at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village.
“Fans wanted to hear Fred’s voice, not some stranger’s from Minnesota,” Lefebvre said. “I knew it would be a difficult transition, but that year turned out to be more challenging and lonely than I could have imagined.”
Then White went on a radio talk show and implored Royals fans to give Lefebvre a chance.
“I don’t know how many would have done something so selfless and generous,” said Lefebvre, pausing to collect himself. “Fred did that for me, and things became a little better for me in Kansas City.”
Lefebvre wasn’t surprised. He had met White five years earlier, upon being named the Twins’ announcer at 24.
He wanted to get to know the other announcers and feared how he would be received by the veterans in the broadcasting fraternity. The first opposing team’s booth he found with the door open was the Royals’.
White and Lefebvre made eye contact, and “I sheepishly took a step back. He said with a warm smile, ‘Come on in.’”
There was a warm feeling throughout the service, filled with a cross section of family, athletes, administrators, broadcasters and media whom were entertained and comforted by the voice so familiar to Midwesterners but found national audiences as well.
Royals, Kansas Staters and those with Big Eight ties were especially well represented. They were White’s home teams.
He joined the Royals in 1973, and the service opened with his calls of great Royals’ moments, like George Brett’s upper-deck blast off Goose Gossage and the Yankees to seal the 1980 American League Championship Series.
“Swing and a drive to deep right field! THERE SHE GOES!”
“I want to thank George for saving some of the big moments of his career for dad’s innings,” joked Fred’s son, Joe White.
White, a native of Homer, Ill., worked at radio stations in Danville, Ill., and Hastings, Neb., before he was hired as sports director at Topeka’s WIBW in 1967, and became the voice of Kansas State athletics.
Later, White’s world expanded to ESPN, where he helped shape the broadcasting career of an excitable aspirant — Dick Vitale.
But it was in the Midwest and with young voices who have become prominent broadcasters where White had his greatest influence.
Chiefs’ broadcaster Mitch Holthus said White became a confidant in the past few years during the team’s struggles.
“He was secure and compassionate, characteristics that are rare in the uber-competitive world of sports broadcasting,” Holthus said.
White’s willingness to help has inspired Holthus, Royals announcer Steve Physoic, K-State broadcaster Wyatt Thompson and Nebraska announcer Greg Sharpe — all from the Wildcats’ broadcasting tree — to fund a scholarship in White’s name at Kansas State for a rising senior on an announcing path.
“Who can I help? That’s what Fred was all about,” Holthus said. “And those attributes should never be forgotten.”