Chris White, who also used the name Aziz Karim after he converted to Islam in 1955, an Army combat veteran of the Korean War, and devoted family man, died Tuesday of cancer. He was 80 and lived in West Philadelphia.
He was born in Halifax, Va., to Sandy and Willie Kate White, and came to Philadelphia as a child. He graduated from Overbrook High School and entered the Army.
He was sent to Korea in 1951, and he would tell about seeing friends killed. He related that once he had to get out and push a truck to stop it from rolling over a cliff, leading to an injury that he carried all his life.
He was discharged a corporal in 1953.
Chris held a number of jobs, including at the former Quartermaster Depot making military uniforms, and the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, before deciding to become a tailor. He attended the former Craft School of Tailoring.
He opened his first cleaning-and-tailoring shop in 1960 at Uber Street and Montgomery Avenue. He then moved the business to 56th and Stewart streets, where the family lived above the shop. That was followed by another shop on 52nd Street above Girard Avenue.
Wherever he went, Chris White made his presence felt.
"He greatly impacted our neighborhood at 56th Street and Lansdowne Avenue," said longtime friend Jean Waites-Howard, an evangelist and social worker. "He was a mentor to countless young men in the community. Chris was living history, having joined the Nation of Islam when Malcolm X was alive. I would talk with him and his wife for hours regarding historic events and memories of our neighborhood. Chris was a true community treasure."
He married his childhood sweetheart, Myra Harper, when she was 18. In an old-fashioned gesture, he asked her mother if he could marry her. Her mother said it was OK by her if Myra was willing. They were married on Oct. 24, 1953.
Over the years, Chris made clothing for some leading lights of the city, including the late City Councilman and civil-rights icon Cecil B. Moore and members of singing groups including the Blue Notes and the Delfonics.
Many loyal customers couldn't imagine going anywhere else for clothing or alterations.
Myra described her husband as "soft-spoken and even-tempered. I could lay you out if I got mad at you, but not Chris. He knew how to hold his temper."
After joining the Nation of Islam, Chris was able to meet Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Wallace Muhammad and other leaders when they visited Philadelphia.
Besides his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Gail and Rashida White; a son, Abdal White; six grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
Services: 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Philadelphia Masjid-Sister Clara Muhammad School, 4700 Wyalusing Ave. Burial will be in Westminster Cemetery. n
Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or email@example.com, or on Twitter @johnfmorrison.