Apr 2nd 1957 - Jun 26th 2012
Bill Wood enjoyed life. Even in the face of a life-threatening illness, he celebrated his passion for being with family and friends, dressing well, enjoying music, and savoring all that life had to offer.
He loved nothing more than to stroll down the street dressed to the nines. On a day when there was a Rotary Club meeting, he would wear a suit with pocket square and bow tie, or for a gathering of his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, he would spend days planning just which combination of black and gold would be best for the occasion. On a hot summer day, he would choose one from among his many Hawaiian shirts—the one with the hula girls, or maybe the one with the surfboards, or perhaps the one with the volcano smoking in the landscape. In the dead of winter, he cared not whether he would be warm enough but whether he would look good enough.
Even though he was rapidly declining this spring, he was determined to enjoy the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival and attended several of its concerts. He still frequented The Union to catch Western Michigan University jazz ensembles, and he continued to listen to his many CDs. He would scour the public library’s collection for some new musical find. Although he favored jazz and classical, he would gladly give a listen to a new country artist or check out a rap album that had good buzz.
And, he cherished his outings with the many friends who graciously and kindly shared their days with him, taking him to lunch, driving him to lectures, concerts, and poetry readings. On Father’s Day, just two weeks ago, he went to Battle Creek with family and friends to enjoy a meal of barbecued rib tips, pulled pork, cornbread, coleslaw and potato salad. He loved a good meal—and even if the meal wasn’t great he would enjoy it as long as he was surrounded by those whom he loved and who loved him.
All of these passions made Bill a great reporter, someone who was always interested in ferreting out the story behind an event or a product or a person’s achievement. It was almost as if the stories he wrote became a part of who he was, a part of his personality. He enjoyed the chance to meet the people who made up a community. From the moment he became a reporter for the Call and Post, a black newspaper in Cleveland, through his tenure at the Marion Chronicle-Tribune in Marion, Indiana, to his 23 years at the Kalamazoo Gazette, he loved to write and to share the stories of others.
William R. Wood—Bill or Billy, as friends and family called him—was born April 2, 1957, in Cleveland to Georgette and Rohillian Wood[BCJ1] . His father died when Bill was only two years old, but his legacy was kept alive by Bill’s mother, who shared many stories about his father’s accomplishments as one of the first blacks in the United States Marine Corps and as an attorney.
After the death of his father, Bill and Georgette formed a dynamic team, often serving as each other’s best companion and sounding board. They shared a taste for socializing, fashion, music, and enjoying life. He felt she was his greatest cheerleader, and he was her biggest fan.
Georgette was a teacher, and she instilled a love of learning in her son. She made many sacrifices to ensure he had the best possible education, which included a preparatory education at Hawken School in Gates Mills, Ohio, from which he graduated in 1975, and a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University in Boston in 1979. But she did more than merely provide for his schooling. Her every discussion with him encompassed little lessons in history or culture—for him, or for anyone else who listened.
And their story remained interwoven for his entire life, as Bill took care of his mother in the final months of her own battle with cancer, which ended in 2010.
In July 1995, Bill married Linda Mah, and in 1999 they were blessed with twin daughters Ava and Lena. He embraced fatherhood as he embraced every other adventure. He attended the baby classes and checked and double-checked the baby seats before the girls’ arrival. After the girls were born, he shook as he drove them home for the first time, saying he had never been so nervous in his entire life. As a new father, his favorite position was lying on his back, napping on the couch with a sleeping baby balanced on his chest.
When they were little, he opted to work the night shift so he could be home with the girls during the day. Although it was a tiring schedule, he treasured those days as a time to teach them how to enjoy the things he enjoyed—exposing them to music, taking them out as often as possible to restaurants, libraries and museums, and making sure they had every chance to play with friends—whose parents often became his fast friends. Music, family, friends, and living with joy were the lessons he sought to share.
Bill died peacefully at home on June 26 after a seven-year battle with kidney cancer. He is survived by Linda, Ava and Lena, as well as many other family members, including his aunts Decie Williams and Barbara Williams, and cousins Bettye Gordon, Valorie Allen, and Denise Patterson; Stephanie Turner, Michael and Toby Williams; Diane, Caroline, Kim Williams -Wesson and Kay Springer; John, Jan and Alan Williams; and Greg Stephenson.
—Linda S. Mah
A service to celebrate his life will be held on Monday, July 2 – 11 AM at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (247 West Lovell; Kalamazoo, Mich.) Following the service food and fellowship will be shared in the church hall. Services will also be held in Cleveland on Saturday, July 14 – 10 AM at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (2171 East 49th Street; Cleveland, Ohio), where his family was longtime members. A reception will follow in the church hall. Please visit Bill’s personal web page at www.lifestorynet.com where you can read his Life Story, archive a memory, view photos, and sign his online guestbook. Memorial donations may be directed to Western Michigan University – School of Music, Jazz Studies Program. Arrangements by Life Story Funeral Home, Betzler – Kalamazoo; 6080 Stadium Drive (375-2900).
In closing, here is a tribute his friend Benjamin Clay Jones.
Adios, Bill Wood.
Who was living proof that a cravat is not a bygone thing.
Who embraced both the fire of Captain Kirk and the cool of Mr. Spock.
Who interviewed Halle Berry.
Who wore a bow tie and a seersucker suit to my wedding — the best-dressed man there.
Who launched into a disquisition on the nuances of flavor among a dozen samples of hot sauce for Buffalo wings.
Who fathered twin daughters—one like Venus, the other, Mars.
Who, unlike Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy, WAS a contender. No “coulda been” about it.
Who had a collection of hand-painted ties and had to be dissuaded from buying more.
Who was a writer’s writer.
Who cajoled his guests into donning, once more, their wedding duds—he and Linda did the same—for his and her tenth wedding anniversary party, held in their backyard, with dancing.
Who epitomized Hemingway’s phrase “grace under pressure,” and was a gentleman to the core.
Who concocted some of the most elaborate romantic schemes ever heard of in this prosaic burg, all to please and impress his beautiful wife.
Who looked at me and tried earnestly to tell me something on Friday. I don't know what it was.
Rest in peace, good friend.