A sense of family -- Remembering Hank Woods, Sc'47
Back in 1987 when I first sat in the Review editor’s chair, I discovered that my predecessor, Cathy Perkins, had bequeathed me an unexpected gift: a parcel of interesting relationships with a motley crew of retired faculty members, alumni, and assorted “friends.” The University occupied a special place in the hearts of the “regulars,” as I dubbed them. They viewed the Queen’s community and all things Queen’s, the Review especially, as part of their own extended families and so they regularly visited our offices.
As the times and calendar leaves have changed, the ranks of the regulars inevitably have thinned. I was reminded of that sad reality the other day, when I learned of the death of Harold Woods, BSc’47. “Woodsie” left us on November 13 at the ripe old age of 91. He was one of a kind; of that, there can be no doubt.
Ottawa-born and -bred, he attended Glebe Collegiate, served in the RCAF during WWII, and after graduating from Queen’s enjoyed a successful career in the oil import-export industry. Woods, his wife Dorothy, and their three daughters lived an eventful life that included residencies in Turkey and Lebanon.
Following Woods’s death, two of his daughters shared details of their father’s colourful life story with Ottawa Citizen columnist Kelly Egan (Nov. 19, pp. C1-2). Among the information they offered was the revelation – to me, anyway – that the 1957 death of a fourth daughter, born prematurely, had deeply affected their father. By nature a deeply spiritual man, a mystic, and a poet, Woods was never the same after that traumatic event.
Increasingly, he became a wanderer who, as Egan, wrote, “would disappear for weeks, but send letters [home] and show up at the most unexpected times.”
Woods, who had little use for money, always packed light for his cross-country rambles. Sometimes he hitched rides, other times he went by bus. To paraphrase a line from the playwright Tennessee Williams, “Woods often depended on the kindness of strangers.” Hospitable Cape Breton was a favourite place; when he started a ‘Society of Capers’, he wrote to Prince Charles LLD’91 (“A fellow grad, you know!”) to confer membership.
Uncertain though his life must have been at times, Woods held fast to at least one precious constant: Queen’s and the abiding sense of family that he’d felt in his student years. Whenever he was in Kingston, usually three or four times each year, he’d visit the Review offices. One day I jokingly referred to him as “our roving correspondent,” and it pleased him greatly. I know that only because ever after, whenever he tapped on my door, he’d smile and say, “Rover reporting in.”
A few years ago – and I regret that I can’t recall when – Woods paid what would be his last visit to the Review, although neither of us realized it at the time, of course. Such is life. He’d long been “a lost trail,” but now he was conspicuous in his absence. I wondered whatever had become of him. Thanks to the Egan article, I now know.
As Woods aged, health problems inevitably took their toll, and in 2010 he became a resident of “the Perly”, Ottawa’s nursing home for veterans, which would be the final stop in a peripatetic life.
The Rover’s earthly perambulations have ceased, and, sadly, the ranks of “the regulars” have decreased by yet another one. If there’s consolation to be found in any of this, to me it’s the realization that the feeling of community and family that Hank Woods and so many other grads find such comfort in – and that is so very much a part of Queen’s and the Queen’s experience – continues unabated. Sure, that sounds corny to cynical ears, but it’s true, nonetheless. And in these mercurial times, that continuity is as reassuring as it is something to cherish and celebrate.