Hometown Hero

Hometown Hero Patti Gulledge White is known for her infectious laugh and a big heart when it comes to sharing her passion for art and life with students and friends. - Cynthia Woolbright
Hometown Hero Patti Gulledge White is known for her infectious laugh and a big heart when it comes to sharing her passion for art and life with students and friends.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Patti Gulledge White has the courage to approach life with an open heart, says Deborah Heg of Greenbank: "She looks to the comfort of others, always. She's 100 percent engaged: with people, her art -- anything she does."

Gulledge White founded the Islands' first Recycling Center in Freeland in 1973, known as "Patti's dump," says Lynn Willeford, writer and owner of

the Clyde Theater.

From materials out of the dump, Gulledge White built her own home.

"Watching her gave me the confidence to apprentice myself to a carpenter and eventually build my own," Willeford said.

Willeford also gained confidence in herself from watching Gulledge White rebuild her own truck engine. "Her auto mechanic skills gave me the confidence to keep up with my own perpetually disintegrating VW as well. I've never done any of these as well as Patti, but at least she provided me all the much-needed inspiration and encouragement I needed.

"Patti has the most compassionate ear, she listens in a way that most people don't listen anymore -- she's not thinking about what she's going to say next, as soon as you take a breath," Willeford added. "People come to Patti's kitchen to talk about troubles, and leave feeling comforted by her kindness and wisdom. For years she has been visiting elderly lonely people. I'm sure the time spent with that bundle of fizz and giggles we call Patti Jo is the highlight of their week. I hope she adds me to her roster

a few years down the road."

Debora Valis says when she joined a volleyball team with Gulledge White, she was handed a shirt that had the same thing on it as everyone's -- all the shirts read "COACH."

Gulledge White says no matter what we are doing in life, we are all teaching and learning. None of us is more important than another.

"I don't even like to call my art students, 'students,' because I am their student, too," she said.

"I remember a time when I was a waitress, where the owner treated us all as if we were beneath him. He yelled at us and criticized us when we were the most vulnerable, after a difficult customer or after an extended shift."

In contrast, Barbara Peyser, one of Gulledge White's art students, says "Patti is the ideal teacher. She's supportive, encouraging, inspiring, patient and kind. She is also a tireless student herself. Each week she prepares her lessons, doing research on color theory, design, composition, art history and

illustrates this knowledge to all of us."

Gulledge White says she believes we learn and teach better if we live with our hearts wide open.

Sharing family feelings was her job growing up.

"My sister whispered to me at our Dad's dying bedside," 'Patti Jo tell Daddy I love him.' I never have seen crying or showing emotions as a weakness."

She says she used to think she had to seek everyone's approval.

"I never did, of course. Since then I've learned that there will be people who won't understand me or even like me. And that's OK. They're wrong, of course," she laughs.

When asked if she likes everyone?


Still, she says she's learned not to expect people to be like herself.

"We need to see people for who they are, not for what we think they should be. That way we won't be disappointed as often. I try to accept my own and others humanness. We have all made huge mistakes, I know I have anyway. I hope I am learning from them and doing better."

Gulledge White lives in the uniquely handcrafted style home she built, along with husband Jeff, and Grady their "wonder dog." Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, she sits contently in her living room, surrounded by art on every wall.

"I'm not the one that is going to be telling the funny stories at parties, or holding up the conversation. I'm kind of a dud, really. I have never been cool in any way.

"I blurt things out, I am too excitable, too childlike. On top of that I don't remember names. I hope no one thinks that means I don't care about them," she added. "One time I told an art class that I hope they will forgive me when I see them in the market, because I won't remember their names. This one lady blurted out 'Oh, that's OK, honey, we won't remember your name either.'"

Norma Boland, member of the Artists of South Whidbey says "Patti encouraged me to follow my dreams and never to give up.

"She believes in treating all mankind with kindness. Patti doesn't have a single mean bone in her body."

Asking Gulledge White what does it mean if someone doesn't have a mean bone?

"Well, I think that means that person never wants to hurt someone. That doesn't mean they won't accidentally."

Gulledge White lives with an open heart, says Betty Azar, a world-renowned author.

"Patti is not afraid to care deeply and compassionately. Glue. That's what Patti is," Azar said. "The wonderful kind of glue that creates community, makes it stronger, and holds it together. Just by the way Patti connects with her community, we are reminded that indeed we are, despite our differences, the human family, touching each other's lives and working together for the good of all."

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