Reginald M. Wood — May 27, 1909 – September 22, 1988.
Reginald M. Wood was my ex-husband’s grand father, and my son’s great grand father. Mr. Wood died just two years after my husband and I were married, so I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know him very well, although I was present at a critical moment that changed me forever. The moment couldn’t have lasted more than 7 minutes, but after those 7 minutes my lens on life was dramatically altered.
The Reginald M. Wood story that I was told was of the man who was one of ten children, growing up during the early 1900’s in the beautiful countryside of rural Virginia. He was very bright, but the family was poor and had so many children to tend to. Reginald may have been one of the youngest in the family, perhaps even the tenth child. Although very smart, Reginald was never able to attend college, for again, the family simply couldn’t afford it. But Reginald was a scrappy survivor, refusing to allow the obstacles in his path to hold back his future. He eventually started his own business, showing remarkable determination and drive to succeed at this pursuit. And succeed he did, with astonishing results. After a number of years of sustained consistency, he became a millionaire… and with this financial security, although I should state that he was financially secure and then some, he was finally able to focus on his childhood dream that had never materialized, the dream of attending college. He identified strongly with all talented teenagers in the same situation, physically and/or intellectually able to achieve their goals, but not financially able. He made a personal commitment to these young people to be the financial benefactor they had been praying for. From what I’ve been told, he had a particular devotion to funding UVA football players and was passionate about attending all the home games and supporting the players in person from the stands.
I don’t know for sure how many athletic scholarships Mr. & Mrs. Reginald M. Wood endowed at the University of Virginia, he was a founding contributor to UVA’s Athletics Foundation. What I was told was that it was a substantial number, (I think my ex-husband said hundreds, but again, I’m not sure if that’s factually correct or if that’s the truth according to family legend). But what I do know for sure, is that for many, many years Reginald M. Wood was able to live vicariously through these players, participating in campus life for far longer than he ever would have had he officially attended UVA.
I can’t imagine a more meaningful way to achieve a lifelong dream.
Reginald M. Wood had one daughter, my ex-husband’s mother, my son’s grandmother. In August of 1988, we were told that Reginald Wood had cancer, that it was already stage 4 and that he didn’t have long to live, maybe only a month. It was too late for the doctor to do anything substantial, just keep him out of pain. On September 22, 1988, my husband received a call to come quickly to Virginia, that his grandfather most likely wouldn’t be alive the next day.
We raced from New Jersey to Salem, Virginia in record time, went immediately to the hospital and were led into a private waiting room. After a brief period, we were all ushered into Reginald Wood’s private hospital room, where he lay sleeping with his eyes closed, breathing heavily. My husband and his family lined one side of the bed, but there was no room for me, so the doctor pointed to the other side. The bed was only a few inches from the wall, leaving me just a sliver of space to slither along until I reached the top, where the minster indicated I should stand. So there I stood, just a few inches from Reginald Wood’s sedated face. The doctor and minister didn’t necessarily know who in the room with Reginald Wood was who; they just knew what the right thing to do was and thus pointed and nodded at different people to do different things that are appropriate when someone is about to leave the planet and begin their journey to afterlife. Mr. Wood’s daughter was holding her father’s hand; I was instructed to place my hand on his chest.
The Minister began a very compassionate, comforting prayer. When the prayer was completed, we bowed our heads… but I couldn’t close my eyes. I just stared at Mr. Wood’s calm face with deep admiration. He inhaled, then exhaled, inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled, inhaled… then nothing. I was standing so close to him, searching his face for any sign of life; I’m not sure if I was the first to notice that he wasn’t exhaling. Or perhaps that’s what the doctor was there waiting for. We stayed an extra minute before the doctor finally indicated we should leave… which we did.
This is the kind of moment that stays with you forever. Reginald M. Wood, for me, was simply a giant. I never knew him as anything but the brilliant hero that all the family stories revealed him to be. I was standing the closest to him when he died. Not by choice, but rather because my back was against the wall and I was unable to step a safe distance away, like my husband’s family had done on the other side.
I’m not a millionaire like Reginald M. Wood, not even close, but I believe my determination and drive to be as stalwart… and my goal to support young athletes and artists, who are faced with major financial obstacles when they have so much talent and desire to contribute, to be the same. I believe my inspiration today was silently sown all those years ago, slowly growing quietly within me, like a compassionate baton being secretly slipped to me by a legend, when my back was against the wall at a critical crossroad, and I couldn’t step away, and found that the only way through the moment was simply to accept what was being offered.
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