PROFILE 2010: Dwight Witherspoon

Published 5:23 pm Sunday, March 7, 2010

The list of Demopolis people to go north of the Arctic Circle is a very short one, and for good reason. At 32 degrees, 30 minutes latitude, Demopolis is closer to the equator (0 degrees latitude) than it is to the Arctic Circle (roughly 66 degrees, 34 minutes latitude).

One name on that exclusive list is Dwight Witherspoon, a 1987 graduate of Demopolis Academy who now lives and works in Stockholm, Sweden.

After graduating from high school, Witherspoon earned a degree in journalism from Auburn University, but before entering the working world, he and a friend moved out to Aspen, Colo.

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“We were only going to live there for three months, but we fell in love with it and stayed for three years,” Witherspoon said. “I also met and fell in love with my wife, Elizabeth Field, there. She had just graduated from the University of Virginia and was also coming to be a ski bum for a few years.”

Flash ahead to a number of years ago, when the company that Witherspoon was working for was acquired by Ericcson, which is based in Stockholm. Ericcson is best known for building mobile and cellular networks and carries about 40 percent of all mobile phone calls.

“After a year of traveling to Stockholm once a month, I got an opportunity to move here with my family,” Witherspoon said. “I am in marketing, and my primary job is to help Ericcson create market demand for television solutions like HD (high definition), video on demand, interactivity and so on.”

Witherspoon found Sweden to be a great place to live with his wife and children, William, 7, and Davis, 3, despite its differences from his hometown.

“Sweden is probably one of the most family-friendly countries in the world,” he said. “It typically ranks in the top five of most environmentally friendly places to live, which means clean air. It also has a very low crime rate, and the philosophy here is ‘work to live’ instead of ‘live to work.’

“This is my first time living abroad, but I have been traveling internationally with work since about 1998. In the last few years, before Ericcson acquired us, most of my work was in Europe, so it really made sense for us to move to Stockholm. Now, I can get to London, Paris, Madrid and elsewhere and back in one day — a long day, but still better than being away from the wife and kids for three to five days!”

Witherspoon said an American friend of his, Dave Banyard, told him that he always wanted to go above the Arctic Circle and went looking for people to join him.

“The trip sounded like a unique adventure, so I agreed to go,” Witherspoon said. “We flew to the north of Sweden and then drove into the Arctic Circle. We met our guide in a small town called Jokkmokk who owns 40 Siberian huskies and takes tours from three hours to three days.

“We each got a team of four dogs, packed all our food and clothes for the trip and headed north. The sledding was fantastic, and the dogs are really amazing! We learned a few Swedish words for ‘left,’ ‘right,’ ‘stop,’ ‘go’ — and that was enough to be effective with the dogs.”

The first night, they stayed in a tepee. The guide said it would be adequate, but didn’t anticipate a steep temperature drop that night.

“We spent a very cold night at minus-28 Celsius!” Witherspoon said. “That’s 18 below zero Fahrenheit! Even in an arctic sleeping bag with deerskins underneath, we were cold!

“We were up early the next day and off for more sledding. We took all our water from the lakes and ponds. You have to drill through them, but once you do, the water is clear and blue, and you can drink straight away; no boiling is necessary.”

The polar trip was an exciting adventure, but life in Sweden is far from humdrum for the Witherspoons.

“For fun, we like to snowboard and ice skate in the winter,” Witherspoon said. “Sweden is very dark this time of year, so lighting candles and making fires is also fun. In the summer, we have a small boat we use to go out on the archipelago. Like most Swedes, we take the month of July off, and it’s great to spend as much time as possible with the kids.

“We also travel around a lot. We have been to the Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Switzerland, and we have a trip planned for Egypt in a few weeks.”

Witherspoon keeps up with his family here in the States. His father, David, lives in Gallion, and his sister, Rachel, lives in Asheville, N.C. Dwight and his family have a house in Florida where he, his father and sister get together on occasion.

”Overall, we really like it here, but of course, we miss home,” he said. “I have a hard time keeping up with my Auburn Tigers, given the seven-hour time difference!”

Demopolis prides itself on being a true Southern town, but you don’t realize how far South it is until you venture way up north. Dwight Witherspoon has lived in both extremes, and will never forget his dogsled trip above the Arctic Circle.