In the Beginning 1897–1920
Born into the Dublin of James Joyce, Ralph S White had a natural talent for Engineering. Ralph was the first of three generations who would grow a family and a family business side by side to the present day Ralph Samuel White was born on the 3rd December 1897. He grew up in Rathmines and attended Mountjoy College where he distinguished himself with academic success in many subjects, including geometry, algebra, trigonometry and mechanics.
So began a period of study in engineering that set him on the path to his future career. In 1917, Ralph received a Diploma in engineering, mining and metallurgy from the University of London. By October 1920, he had achieved a Bachelor of Science degree from the University’s Faculty of Engineering. He returned to Ireland to further his studies. During this period he met his future wife, Miss Ivy Morris of Mount Merrion, Blackrock. During the Irish War of Independence Ivy, by then Ralph’s fiancée, was working in the Customs House in Dublin which was engulfed in flames in May
1921. In 1923, Ralph received a post graduate Diploma in Engineering from the Royal College of Science of Ireland. With this wealth of knowledge, Ralph secured a position with Crossley Brothers of Manchester, manufacturers of diesel and gas engine.
Setting. After a four week journey across the Atlantic Ocean, Ivy was re-united with Ralph and they married at the English Church in Pernambuco on the 31st March 1927. The newlywed couple travelled back and forth from Brazil to Ireland on a number of occasions enjoying life on board the impressive ocean liners. Ralph continued to work for Crossley Brothers from 1924 until 1931 working throughout Brazil and gaining a wealth of engineering experience.
He often travelled into the interior of the country for long periods, installing Crossley’s water pumping engines, leaving Ivy confined to their small ranch.
All parts and components for the boilers were transported by boat from England, causing logistical headaches at such a distance. Life with Ivy in Brazil was one of Ralph’s great adventures and they enjoyed life in the thriving region of Pernambuco. Their house had a beautiful garden, complete with parrots, which occupied Ivy in Ralph’s absence. But in 1931, they returned to Ireland and settled into ‘Ellen Lodge’, an old railway gate lodge in Dalkey, Co. Dublin.
Taking the Plunge 1932 – 1939
80 years ago Ralph White was back in 1930’s Ireland. Seeing the opportunity to use his wealth of experience and follow his own direction and ideas in the engineering world, he took the plunge and set up his own business, R S White. R S White’s first offices were in South William Street, Dublin. He became an agency to supply boilers, motors and compressors to the Irish market. Atlas Copco, Dan Britt in London who supplied water softeners, and Thomas B Thriges who supplied electric motors from Odense in Denmark, soon joined forces. Ralph knew from experience that soft feed water prevented boilers from furring up, but he was not impressed by the softeners available, and others’ lack of vision about these. Dan Britt commented that they were ‘no good at present time, we will keep them before us as they may come in useful at a later date.’ In 1937, he spotted softener equipment from an English company Permutit. This started a working relationship that lasted over 40 years. Ralph started to install their water treatment equipment for a number of well-known Dublin clients. R S White’s first water analysis was for Lord Inchiquin of Dromoland Castle and other clients during the 1930s included the Duke of Westminster and Bewleys Oriental Cafes.
In 1939, a world shattering event occurred which caused problems for R S White – in the transport of equipment from Thomas B Frige in Denmark – the Second World War began in September of that year.
Branching Out 1939 –1950
The outbreak of the Second World War could have spelled disaster for R S White. Ralph’s skills and determination to innovate and to find alternative solutions helped the company to survive. Ralph took the Emergency in his stride and joined the St John’s Ambulance Brigade, training in air raid precautions and taking part in regular fire watch patrols. He observed the movement of the German army with horror for the peoples of Europe and hoped that orders of equipment would arrive safely from Odense in Denmark. Thomas B Thrige wrote to R S White to explain that its insurance company was levying additional war risk premiums to protect the shipments. Ivy and Ralph celebrated New Year 1945 with the birth of their first daughter Susan, born on the 1st January. Ralph continued to raise standards of water treatment equipment and the company supplied many high profile clients. In 1948, R S White moved from the city centre to 3, The Crescent Donnybrook where they would stay until 1994. Larger office space was needed to accommodate a growing amount of equipment. One notable agency was Anderson Grice Cranes for which R S White supplied three 25 tonne cranes to the quays in Waterford, preserved today as part of the city’s history. A second daughter Joan was born on the 9th November 1950. Joan’s sister Susan would grow up to marry her sweetheart Brian Keating who would continue the R S White tradition into the next generation.
Stepping Up 1950 –1990
In this period, R S White and the White family went through many phases of change. The strong leadership and the loyal and hardworking workforce kept the business safe, whilst alongside this the family were growing up.
In 1955, Ralph incorporated the business and a new plaque outside the offices announced R S White Ltd. Ralph’s daughters were growing up too. Susan met her future husband Brian Keating at a youth club in Dun Laoghaire in the early 60s. Brian joined the company in 1965, selling Permutit equipment. He generated good sales for R S White and put himself in favour with his future father-in-law. In 1971 Pat Geraghty joined from Permutit as the first engineer. Today he has over 40 years service.
In 1977, Ralph retired and passed on the lead to Brian. Soon after, in the 1980s, the company experienced turbulent times reflecting the state of the Irish economy. Companies who had previously supplied equipment to them stopped trading. R S White Ltd started to manufacture ‘Whitewater’ branded water treatment equipment at the Donnybrook site, but with the economic crash and spiralling fuel costs, this operation was eventually closed. The strength of Brian’s leadership along with the trust and reliance of a reduced but loyal staff of Tim Quinn, Lynda Doran, Pat Geraghty and Steven Farrell, brought the company safely though these difficult times.
Turning up the Heat 1990 –2012
Since the early 1990s, the company has changed its name to Whitewater, set new industry standards for the quality of pure and ultrapure water and welcomed the third generation of the family to enter the business.
Hospitals now needed ‘preventative maintenance’ so the service division was born. In 1989, the next family member to join Whitewater was Brian’s son Mark who, with a Diploma in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, became the first service engineer. Mark’s adventurous side led him to travel to work in Canada selling domestic water treatment systems, later volunteering for a mission with the Red Cross in troubled Yugoslavia. After two years he returned home with his fiancée Vesna and son Aco. He rejoined the company moving up to Technical Sales in 1999. In 1991, Brian formed an alliance with Evapco cooling towers, initiating a long friendship with Mark Bourroughs. Important links were also established with European companies allowing much technical innovation, including
Herco in Germany and Danish company Eurowater. In 2001, Paul Picard joined the service team. In 2009, Brian retired after 45 years to fulfil grandparent duties and Mark became the third generation MD.
Sadly, on 24th March 2012, Brian Keating passed away, a terrible shock for family, friends and colleagues.
Looking to the Future 2012 and beyond
The future looks bright and also green. Three generations of bright talent and big personalities have placed Whitewater and the family in a strong position. Brian is missed as ever, but strength from family and friendships help. The company is moving into a new era which is full of technological advances. Cost saving, energy saving, space saving and green technologies are part of new developments from Whitewater.
Mark is at the helm now, supported by a strong team of experienced colleagues and friends and many valued partner companies from across Europe. Ralph and Brian would be proud of the continuation of their heritage in both their family and company. There are now three children and three grandchildren in the White, Keating and Redmond story all following their own paths.
This growing family and their valued friends have all played their own part in the story of the company and will continue to do so in the future.
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