Paul White, a retired local schoolteacher and administrator of nearly 40 years, avid cyclist and runner, family man and overall "good guy," died of a heart attack Wednesday doing what he loved -- cycling. He was 64.
"He was a good man who lived a good life," said a friend of 35 years, Jim Cowles. "Everybody was a friend to him. He was just a good guy."
News of White's death spread quickly because he knew everyone in the Bakersfield area, friends and family said.
He grew up in the Weedpatch area, attending Vineland School and Arvin High School. He returned to the area after graduating from the University of San Francisco (he got a master's degree from Cal State Bakersfield), teaching and coaching sports starting in 1970 at Vineland for nine years.
In 1979 White started teaching in the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District. He was promoted to assistant vice principal, principal and in 1989 he moved to the district office as director of staff development.
In 1994 he became director of personnel, where he stayed before retiring in 2007. In that role, White was responsible for hiring 844 teachers and staff members.
Panama Superintendent Kip Hearron said White knew everyone's name and what campus they were on.
"And he remembered something personal about them," Hearron said, before getting emotional. "It's a loss for those who knew him professionally and as a friend."
White loved his job. In a Panama newsletter announcing his retirement, White said he would "miss frequent contact with all the wonderful employees at the district level and at the school and work sites. I can't imagine a better organization to work for."
Among his passions were running and cycling. Bike buddies described White as one of the most physically fit people they knew. With friends, he ran marathons and cycled from the Canadian to Mexican borders. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, White and his group of friends would cycle through Bakersfield.
He never argued and always listened. He'd give an opinion only if asked. And he would never judge, friends said.
"You can't say anything bad about him," said John Rous, friend of 35 years. "Everyone liked him. He was my very best friend."
Perhaps the only thing he loved more than running and cycling with friends was his family. He married his wife, Patricia, in 1968, shortly after meeting her at a local sports game.
"I met him and it was meant to be," she said. "He was a wonderful man."
She described him as a determined man, working in the oilfields at age 12 and working in the summer to afford college.
The two had three sons and a daughter. Patricia and Paul have six grandchildren.
White taught son Joe "family is No. 1." Among his most vivid memories is tagging along with his dad to the dump.
"It was a chore -- a duty you had to do," Joe said of his "best friend." "He taught me you should fulfill your obligation for your family."
Daughter Katie Sepsey said her dad "loved being a grandfather." He would take Katie's two daughters on field trips and ice cream dates.
And he also inspired her, Sepsey said. She took up running because of him, and is a teacher in Panama.
His only flaw, loved ones said, was in his heart. He suffered a heart attack in 2004, and doctors put a pacemaker in him. But that didn't stop him. He was soon getting up at 4:30 a.m. to ride his bike.
On Wednesday, Paul was cycling with friends on Round Mountain Road when he pulled to the side of the road and collapsed. Friends administered chest compressions and oil workers in the area called for help. He died shortly after.
Mass will be held at 4 p.m. Friday at St. Francis Church. The family will have a private burial.