By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor
BIG SKY – If a mark of a life well lived is the crowd that turns out to celebrate you upon your death, then Devon White knew a secret or two. An estimated 700 people packed into the Buck’s T-4 Lodge ballroom Sept. 10 to remember White, co-owner of the Corral Bar, Steakhouse and Motel, and purportedly Big Sky’s longest, living fulltime resident until his passing Sept. 4.
A tireless workhorse, White remained a fixture in the Corral kitchen until he took himself to the hospital Aug. 25 where he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. He would spend his few remaining days in hospice at his home in the Gallatin Canyon, surrounded by a continuous procession of friends and family.
“I think because it was so sudden, there hasn’t been time to really swallow the whole thing,” said Dave House, White’s partner in the Corral for nearly 30 years, and friend for even longer. “I think we’re all still in shock.”
Despite the palpable sense of loss, White’s family and friends did their best to keep spirits high during the service. House, his wife Kathy and their three sons all wore White’s signature Hawaiian shirts, and amid the tears, there was plenty of hooting and hollering, joke telling and Budweiser toasting.
“He’s gotta be pissed he isn’t here,” Kathy said from the podium before sharing a story that illuminated the generosity, kindness and selflessness that were repeatedly celebrated as White’s defining characteristics.
When Kathy was struggling to get pregnant, White said to take whatever she needed from the business to pay for an in vitro fertilization procedure that resulted in triplets—now college-aged boys who celebrated their 21st birthdays at the last party “Uncle Dev” threw at the Corral on Aug. 14.
Illustrating White’s gratitude for life, his sister-in-law Cathy told those gathered how White would call his mother on his birthday to thank her for bringing him into this world.
Friends dating back to the early ‘70s, when White moved to Montana, reminisced about epic powder days and hunting excursions; shared drinking stories; spoke of White’s notorious love of dancing and the ladies; and revisited memories of hanging out at the Corral more than a decade before he and House would buy it in 1988.
“We’re gonna carry on,” House said. “But another partner? No way, no how—[he’s] irreplaceable.”
White was born April 21, 1950, and raised in rural Maine. After graduating from high school in 1968, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
After two years as a combat engineer in Alaska, White worked on the construction of Disney World in Florida before taking up an army friend’s invitation to visit Montana. He never left.
White worked in logging and construction upon arriving in Big Sky, which is how he met House and the “Corral family” started to form.
He was a father figure to many, especially to Griffin, Trevor, and Quinn House—who very well might not be here without White’s insistent generosity—and his “special girls,” Lily Lawless and Hannah Breen.
White is survived by his brothers Derek and his wife Cathy, Derwin and his wife Babette, and Drexell and his partner Gayle Koyanagi, all from Maine, as well as many nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews, and a great-great nephew. And, of course, his beloved bird dogs Abby and Spring.
White’s brother Derek addressed the crowd and said, “We might be his brothers, but you were his family.”
The service closed with ceremonial military honors and presentation of the American flag by the Montana National Guard, before breaking out into a lively reception that later migrated, appropriately, to the Corral.
In the days following the memorial, a small group of friends and family scattered some of White’s ashes on the summit of Lone Mountain. Members of the Corral family are still grieving and find it difficult to talk about this man who left such a loving impact on their lives.
Tearing up, Karyn Lawless, who has worked at the Corral for 21 years, recalls how White lent her $800 for a down payment on braces when she was 21 years old. His gift-giving ways continued throughout their years of friendship. Lawless says she already misses talking to White, dancing with him, working side-by-side with him—even receiving his silly phone calls.
“He was a hard worker and cared about his employees as if they were family,” Lawless said. “He thought about others before he thought about himself. Everyone’s trying to stay positive, but we miss him and it’s hard to come here without him here.”
In apt remembrance, White’s corner stool has been tipped forward against the bar and draped with a New England Patriots flag. House said when regulars come in, they tip their drinks toward the small shrine and toast to a man who was cherished by many and will be missed by all.