A Celebration of the Life of Halbert L. White, Jr.
Halbert Lynn White, Jr. was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from Southwest High in 1968 and entered Princeton University intending to major in physics. Fortunately for economics, Hal “couldn’t understand physics to save his life” and by second semester realized he was much more interested in economics. At Princeton, he studied with numerous prominent economists, including his senior thesis advisor, Alan Blinder. Hal graduated as valedictorian in 1972.
In the fall of 1972, Hal entered the Ph.D. program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His cohort included future UC San Diego faculty members Roger Gordon and Vince Crawford (who had been an undergraduate at Princeton with Hal). As a teaching assistant for Jerry Hausman’s econometrics class, Hal graded problem sets for students such as Ben Bernanke and Paul Krugman, both of whom did very well,. Hal later confessed that he frequently used Bernanke’s homework as an answer key. Hal’s dissertation was in labor economics written under the mentorship of Jerry Hausman, his advisor, with Lester Thurow and Robert Solow as members of his committee.
Hal described his job market experience as rather harrowing with many interviews but without any top 10 fly-outs. Just as he was about to accept a “very good but not great” offer, the University of Rochester invited him for a fly-out which led to a job. Primarily a labor economist and only secondarily an econometrician, Hal was concerned that his labor economics articles were all rejected by journals! Fortunately, he had taught himself measure theory and successfully published his first econometrics article, “Using Least Squares to Approximate Unknown Regression Functions.” This led to his famous Econometrica paper on heteroskedasticity that introduced “White standard errors” to the profession.
In the late 1970s, Rob Engle invited Hal to be a visiting professor at UC San Diego. Rob was at MIT when Hal was a graduate student and had moved to UC San Diego to work with Clive Granger. Hal accepted the offer, loved the great colleagues and the California lifestyle, and joined the department permanently in 1980. He went on to write an astounding number of high impact articles and books in econometrics, neural networks, and numerous other topics and was beloved by the many graduate students he mentored. Along with Clive and Rob, he helped propel UC San Diego Economics to the top tier in econometrics. In 1999, Hal teamed up with his former student and long-time friend, Charles Bates, to start Bates White Economic Consulting.
Hal had an outstanding academic career and won numerous awards and honors. He was a Chancellor’s Associates Distinguished Professor of Economics, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Econometric Society and a Guggenheim Fellow. His paper on heteroskedasticity is the most cited work in the economics literature published since 1970.
Hal was also an avid and accomplished jazz trumpet player and composer. His love of music started at the age of 8 and grew into a lifelong romance. He played in the Eddie Baker’s New Breed Orchestra in the 60’s as well as his high school band and loved hanging out listening to local musicians in Kansas City. At Princeton, he played trumpet in the marching band, the orchestra, the Triangle Club and a wide variety of student groups including: a brass quintet, several big band jazz groups, and various soul/R&B bands such as The Nassau Brothers Soul Revue. His romance with music endured to the end as he frequented the stage with Big Band Express and was known for carrying his horns with him on travels around the world in case the opportunity to play with a local group arose.
Hal White was an insightful and energetic scholar, a wonderful colleague, and a devoted and loving husband, father, and friend. He had a deep affection for Kansas City, its jazz, and its barbeque. But his favorite place on earth, he said, was his back patio, with his wife, Teresa, and a gin and tonic at his side. He is survived by his wife, Teresa White; his sisters, Celeste White, Catherine White, and Lynda Lanker; his son, Rich Heath West; and his daughter Rachel Heath. Hal will be deeply missed by those whose lives he touched and, although he is no longer with us, the legacy of his contributions to the department and to the field of economics will endure. He will always be remembered fondly.