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A son remembers his father at bench dedication

Posted: December 10, 2013 7:10 p.m.
Updated: December 11, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Despite grey skies and a fairly constant drizzle, laughter from 50 people filled the southeast corner of Monument Square late Saturday morning. The laughter came as Bob Wood brought forth memories of his father, Dr. Paul Ariel Wood. The laughter highlighted the dedication of a Leaders Legacy bench in Dr. Wood’s honor.

City representatives and friends remembered Dr. Wood as the community’s first obstetrician (OB/GYN), but Bob Wood remembered him as a father.

Bob is the second son. He expressed surprise at the turnout, especially since, as he noted, it was cold and windy Saturday morning. He acknowledged the words of Camden Mayor Tony Scully, who called his father a “remarkable physician,” having delivered exactly 6,841 children in Kershaw County during his career. Bob also acknowledged the words of Camden City Councilman Willard Polk who said it was appropriate to remember Dr. Wood on the 72nd anniversary of Pearl Harbor because the late doctor had served as a navigator in the Pacific during World War II, witnessing the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima.

Polk, the bench’s city sponsor, related the facts of Dr. Wood’s life: attending Wofford College before and after the war; earning his medical degree; marrying his wife, Ruby; going through his internship and residency before coming to Camden; serving as president of the Kershaw County Medical Society and the Kiwanis Club of Camden; supporting the Camden Junior Welfare League.

In fact, Polk said, Dr. Wood was so loved by the Welfare League that they planted a maple tree in his honor back in 1993. Unfortunately, an official tree dedication ceremony waited until January 2007 -- just weeks before he died -- due to his years-long battle with cancer. The tree, Polk noted, is just a little ways from the new bench.

But as much as Bob appreciated those words, he said that they did not relate how his family thought of his father.

“We thought of Daddy a little different way from that and that’s what I’m going to talk about now as part of the family’s perspective of Daddy,” he said, explaining that Wood was the younger of two children -- that he and his sister, Martha, were reared by a Methodist minister and his wife. “He was a child of the Depression which really, back in those days, meant he was just a child of the rural South. The Depression was everywhere in the South when Daddy grew up in the 20s and the 30s.”

He said his grandfather, the minister Paul T. Wood, was strict but outspoken, held in disfavor by the Methodist church because he didn’t mind expressing his views.

“Kind of radical views for back in those days, maybe even conservative today, but that’s the family that Daddy grew up with,” Bob said, calling his grandmother, on the other hand, a “biscuit -- she was warm, she was loving, tender and sweet. I think of her as a biscuit and what a family to grow up in. That’s where I was with my father when I came along. He was smart, you know, and he understood the importance of a good education.”

But, he said, he didn’t think of the things his father did in terms of civic matters but, rather, what he did at home.

“He was a peaceful, quiet kind of a person. He told me once that he was a pacifist. He didn’t join the military because he wanted to; he joined the Navy because he knew if he didn’t do it, he was going to be put into the Army and who knows what he would’ve had to do in the Army, so he joined the Navy,” Bob said.

Wood was a “quiet peaceful father,” his son said, even as his sons squabbled over things like who would eat the last piece of their mother’s chicken or who took a cheap shot playing football in the front yard. Paul A. Wood, was an athlete, something Bob said might surprise those who knew him.

“Those of you who knew Paul Wood, as most of you did, wouldn’t think of him as an athlete, but he was,” he said. “He was the star pitcher on about three of his high school baseball teams and so he encouraged us four boys to play baseball and football. We didn’t do any good at it, but he encouraged us to play football and baseball.”

Bob said he and his brothers knew they would continue their education beyond high school because of their father.

“He chose to become an obstetrician, he told me, because he loved witnessing the miracle of life. Isn’t that cool? You can repair bones, you can heal people, but he liked watching and participating in the miracle of life,” Bob said.

In addition, he said his father enjoyed photography.

“He had this big old Brownie box camera and … a Polaroid camera -- I didn’t like that very much. And then a Canon single-lens reflex camera that used film, and he taught me how to use that and that was fun,” Bob said.

He also said his father was religious, but not outspokenly so, “teaching some” in Sunday school.

“He knew all about God and had this relationship with God that, if you didn’t know him very well, you might not know that he had,” he said.

Bob said his father was also into astronomy, buying a “big old telescope,” teaching his brother, Jimmy, and his late brother, Chip, how to use it. He was also into classical music.

“We had this old-fashioned 1960s-style living room in the front and a family room in the back. Daddy would sit in the living room up front and listen to classical music through these gigantic speakers,” Bob said. “He would read while listening to his music. You might remember my little brother, Chip. When Chip died, they brought the casket into the house and Daddy, I’ll never forget, turned on Beethoven’s 6th Symphony … it was amazing.”

Bob said he never thought of his father as a “guy, the way Dave Barry describes guys, but anyone who’ll listen to Beethoven and Mozart symphonies and also play the mandolin and the fiddle and sing country music is a guy.”

His father also liked poetry, and recited a very short poem, one their mutual favorites:

Alas for the South, her books have grown fewer--

She never was much given to literature.

Bob said his father liked reading, fishing and a had a really good tenor voice.

“Not a lot of you got to hear, because he would get laryngitis every time he sang so he just didn’t sing much, but it was beautiful and I so much wish we had a recording of Daddy’s singing in church,” he said.

He called his father inquisitive, scientifically so.

“I’ll never forget just a month or so before he died, he brought home the brain scan that showed that his cancer had spread to such-and-such a membrane of his brain,” Bob recalled, “and we studied it like we were studying a textbook. I don’t think I could have done that. Here’s this thing that’s going to kill him and we looked at it and talked about it. It was pretty amazing.”

He said his father liked to teach.

“In fact, one of the favorite things he ever taught was a little thing he wrote called ‘The Care and Feeding of Women.’ You know, he was funny,” Bob said.

His father was humble, too, though, he said, with such a healthy ego that he never knew his father to be jealous or hateful.

“He was only a showman when he was singing ‘Mountain Dew’ -- you all know, the bluegrass song. That was the only time he would kind of show off,” he said.

A sudden gust of wind forced Bob to speak a bit extemporaneously for a few moments, blowing his prepared remarks to the ground. He said he had just heard about a new study suggesting evolution is not merely survival of the fittest, but involves some level of genetics. That gave him the impetus to speak about those of his father’s traits that have been passed down not only to him and his siblings, but their children as well.

“So, what did Daddy pass along to my brother, Paul? Well, he passed along the trait of humility; the trait of having knowledge of God, the truth about God; how to read and enjoy good books; and how to sing in church. Paul’s got every bit a good a voice his daddy did. If I want to listen to Daddy’s voice, I just listen to my brother, Paul’s singing.

“What can we learn from Jimmy? Well, he can play guitar like Daddy played the mandolin. He can teach us how to use a brand-new Canon digital 70-80 gazillion megapixel camera with 25 or 30 zoom lenses and a strobe flash. And devotion to family; you can learn about devotion to family from Daddy through Jimmy, and it’s pretty amazing.

“What can we learn from the memory of my little brother, Chip? He was the youngest of the four of us. Well, we can look at the pictures that Chip took because Daddy inspired him with a love of photography like he did in Jimmy. I don’t know if any of you have ever read Faulkner -- this fella, Faulkner, I think from Mississippi or somewhere like that -- pick up one of those books or short stories. Chip loved Faulkner. I’m talking about Faulkner and one day, if you do pick up a book or a short story by Faulkner, that came from Daddy, I would argue. And if you ever see an astronomy book on a coffee table, that’ll be because of Daddy’s love of astronomy and then you can also learn about Daddy by just looking up at the night sky when it’s a little bit clear than today.

“Daddy’s oldest grandchild, Jane, can teach us how to teach. I went all the way through college wondering how do you teach about teaching, and Jane can entertain like nobody else using her wonderful personality. She got that, I submit, not from her parents, but from my Daddy.

“Jane’s brother, Paul, actually played high school athletics -- played football in high school and he loves gadgets and he knows how to have a good time in a good kind of a way.

“The chemistry gene -- how many of us have taken the time to learn from Will, how many of us in the family have taken the time to ask Will about chemistry, which is what Will does for a living.

“And Mary Elizabeth is here with a green umbrella and the red hair who’s all into biology and pharmaceuticals, which is what Daddy was into, and just like Jane and Daddy, she knows how to have a good time in a healthy, good, quality kind of a way.

“And, finally, I talked about Daddy being quiet and humble and peaceful, and kind of a pacifist -- well, that’s my daughter, Rachel and she teaches me through everything she does how to accept good things whether you would agree with them or not -- to accept good things and to love good things and to let people be independent minded about what they enjoy and cherish.

“Me, I take full credit for getting Daddy’s incredible sense of humor,” Bob said as he began wrapping up. “Speaking of which, Daddy told me how to tell a male chromosome from a female chromosome. And, of course, the scientists in the family know how to tell a male chromosome from a female chromosome. So, all of you, maybe know that the way you know one from the other is to pull down its genes.”

Bob then directed everyone’s attention to the bench being dedicated in his father’s name.

“It’s not too late for everyone here to learn a few more things from Daddy -- do this on a quiet, warm, dry afternoon and come take a seat on this bench,” he said. “We’re not going to be weary travelers sitting on this bench, we’re going to have a few minutes just to sit down and goof off and do nothing. You turn off your iPad if you’re young. You turn off your cell phone if you’re many of us, and you sit there and be quiet and don’t let anyone hurry you. Just take a few minutes to sit on that bench over there and just ask Daddy about the miracle of life and you’ll learn something directly from Daddy.”

Others speaking Saturday included Councilwoman Alfred Mae Drakeford; former Kiwanis president Frank Bernhardt; Dr. John Moore, the county’s second OB/GYN; Joyce Caudill, head KershawHealth labor and delivery nurse who worked with Dr. Wood from 1970 to 1991; and Dr. Linda McLeod, who joined and then took over Dr. Wood’s practice.

Among the items brought to Saturday’s ceremony was an odd, perhaps even frightening-looking tool in a wood, glass-topped case. Caudill said that Dr. Wood was one of the last people to use them.

“When we heard he was going to retire, we were all upset and we thought, ‘Well, what can we do for him,’” Caudill recalled. “Well, he was one of the last people who still used these forceps. They’re called Elliott forceps, and I think they said what other people have voiced, too -- they were afraid to hang them in the house because they thought they would scare somebody, but we knew that Dr. Wood would get the joke and he would appreciate them. It was kind of a joke, but he used them, and he used them competently and in the hands of a good practitioner they were a tool that saved many babies’ lives.”

Dr. McLeod, too, remembered some humorous moments, including some of his best lines.

“Everyone wants to know how much their baby’s going to weigh, and he always said, ‘Oh, about 7, 7-1/2. So, now, when I have somebody ask, I say, “Ahh, about 7, 7-1/2. Most of the time, you’re wrong, but it doesn’t really matter,” McLeod said. “For every baby he delivered, the thing he’d tell them was, ‘I’m you’re first best friend.’ I love that one. That was awesome. One of the best things he used to say to me was that Camden was good to him, and the last time I think that I saw him, he patted me on the stomach and said Camden had been good to me,” McLeod said, laughing.

“He even introduced my children to the stars.”

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