February 11, 2016 | post a comment | Betsy Woodman
My father was born 100 years ago today. I am taking the liberty of posting the eulogy I gave at his memorial service, August 25, 2007, at the Ware Student Center, Colby-Sawyer College, New London, NH. He was President of the college 1962-1972. It was then called Colby Junior College.
To my dad:
In the thrifty way of his time, Dr. James B. Woodman of Franklin recorded his expenses in a notebook. In February, 1916, he jotted down $3.40—“cigars baby.” His second son, Everett Milton Woodman, had come into this world.
Everett was a sickly baby and not as fine-looking as his older brother Jim. A neighbor stopped his mother Ethel on the street and peered into the perambulator. “Oh dear,” she said. “Jimmy was such a lovely baby.”
He grew up on tree-lined Prospect Street in Franklin. He rode his bicycle, played sandlot baseball, attended Sunday school at the Franklin Unitarian Church. The family went to 4th of July parades and ate New England boiled dinner.
Everett grew, getting less sickly and less plain all the time. By age sixteen, he was splendidly handsome. But–not a great student. His parents sent him to Phillips Exeter Academy to shape him up for college, and, his dad hoped, for a medical career. That wasn’t going to be easy. The first semester, Ev wrote home.
“The marks came out this afternoon and right now I feel pretty discouraged… The real shock … is in Chemistry. Last time I had a C which is a good enough mark. This time it is E+ which is just under passing. The funny part of it is that last (time) on the test … I got a C- (66) … I think that I deserve quite a lot more than an E+.”
“I brought the English up to D- … this wasn’t much gain but I am passing and that is an awful lot better than flunking. The Algebra,” he reported mournfully, “stayed just the same.”
The good news was a B in French, and the baseball coach had talked to him. Somehow, other teachers too were interested in this unpromising student. They gave him extra tutoring. The math teacher paused often in class to ask, “Woodman, any snags?” There were plenty of snags.
But he made it through Exeter, and to everyone’s great relief, into Dartmouth College. At Dartmouth, French and baseball continued to save his skin.
Senior year, he went on a double date with another Dartmouth student and two Colby Junior College girls. His own date got sick and had to go home; the other girl, Ruthie Randolph, stuck out the evening.
He graduated in 1939. H. Leslie Sawyer, the president of Colby-Junior College, thought Ev could handle a stint as a remedial reading instructor, and perhaps help out on the grounds crew in his spare time.
Six months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the young instructor married Ruthie Randolph. Soon after that, he was in the United States Navy. In 1944 he crossed the Atlantic to take part in the invasion of Normandy.
That was a defining event in his life. On the eve of the invasion, he later remembered, “I made a prayerful promise. Should I survive, I would spend my life thereafter helping prevent this lunacy from ever happening again.”
He did survive. In the hope that reason and learning and good will would conquer lunacy, he committed his life to education and to international service. The student with the miserable grades now got a master’s degree, then a doctorate in education. Jobs in France and India awaited.
In India, he acted as a spokesman for the United States, and he took this role seriously. He gave countless speeches, often at universities. His approach now seems wonderfully innocent and earnest.
He wrote home: “I usually talk about some of the psychological aspects of international relations, a topic which interests them greatly, particularly when I relate some of the ideas of western psychology to oriental philosophy…”
Still, he could report with humor: “Frequently half the audience, or all of it, doesn’t understand English but they usually listen as if they were fascinated…”
Basically, however, he saw diplomacy as connecting directly with people, and this came naturally. “One of the main parts of the job,” he wrote, “is to make friends, and what could be more fun than that!”
He was the merriest of the cold warriors. He collected all sorts of people as friends–filmmakers, painters, holy men, diplomats, airline pilots, teachers, businessmen, and the humblest of the caddies at the golf club.
The three young movie stars who lived next door in Madras were soon running back and forth between the houses, calling these strange Americans Evianna and Poochiakka—Evie-Older Brother and Poochie-Older Sister.
Later in New Delhi, Evianna and Poochiakka were in the thick of things, never just with other Americans, but with an enormous circle of Indian, French, British, Cambodian, Iranian, Canadian, Australian, German, and other friends. Many of these people remained in contact for the rest of their lives.
Ev and Poochie had enormous fun—vacations in Kashmir, mountain treks, fancy dress balls at the Gymkhana Club. Did they ever sleep? A visiting American professor landed in New Delhi at 4:00 am, and apologized for making them come to the airport so early. Then he realized, since they were still in full evening attire, that they were just coming in from their parties.
Ev had serious roles, and not so serious ones. M. A. Parthasarthy, a friend from Bangalore, writes:
(He was) a ready and willing participant in the making of one of my (Tamil) films , where he (did) the English narration. That was real fun, and I will never forget it.
And once, he played matchmaker between two Hindus of different castes. The effort failed.
But his overall effort—to win friends—succeeded. The same Bangalore friend wrote:
To me (your dad) was `Doc’, the genial, ever-helpful, knowledgeable friend and well-wisher… For us in India , he represented … America at its best ,- free, warm hearted, and concerned for fellow man. He embodied the true spirit of Democracy in whatever he did.
He… was… a `world citizen’… He had an extraordinary capacity of recalling and sharing a rich treasure of world experience, and so much goodwill.
After 10 years in India, it was time to come back to the United States.
Here in New London, my dad sought to bring the greater world back home. To Colby Junior College came anthropologist Margaret Mead, the Alvin Ailey dancers, comedian Dick Gregory, Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker and many many more. They would end up in the living room with their feet up, chatting, laughing, and having a great time.
After his decade at Colby, he ventured abroad again. As Peace Corps director in Morocco, he still was in the business of encouraging and guiding young people. He and my mother continued their legendary hospitality. It was all in a day’s work for them to give 200 volunteers Thanksgiving dinner, coping with such slight mishaps as 20 turkeys arriving from the public ovens underdone and inedible.
Suddenly, with the advent of medical problems, things changed. My parents had lived a very glamorous life, fast-paced and busy. Now they were living a very quiet life. In retirement on Ragged Mountain, my dad gardened. He proselytized for his favorite vegetables.
One of my sisters embroidered him a sampler that hung on the wall:
“Our father who art in the mulch pile
Hallowed be thy Brussel Sprouts…
Give us this day our daily bread, but deliver us from Swiss Chard.”
He painted in oils, taking lessons and steadily improving into his late 80s. He gave away perhaps 50 paintings, mostly of people’s houses and those paintings are now fixtures on Ragged Mt. He painted the view from Ragged over and over, becoming to Mt. Kearsarge as Monet was to haystacks.
He may have had an international career, but home was New Hampshire—and not just anywhere, but Franklin to Hanover. That’s where he knew the backroads, the history of every corner. He wanted native plants around his house, and he was a native plant himself.
In his retirement he became more and more a New Hampshire character, benignly eccentric, identifiable at 100 yards on his crutches or canes. He was utterly uninterested in material possessions. He drove a series of increasingly decrepit used cars. He went to yard sales, mainly to drive around and chat people up.
He bought his clothes in thrift shops. He mended his rain slicker with duct tape and he took his trousers in by stapling them down the seam. He was very fond of his red suspenders.
He read voluminously. He tacked up one little makeshift bookcase after another until they covered the walls of his rooms like mushrooms.
Throughout his life, that D- student in English was incredibly expressive and verbally inventive. If he gave a public speech—and the last one was at age of 88, an anti-war speech on the Hanover Green—it was eloquent, superbly crafted, and always perfectly delivered.
In his everyday speech, his creativity was boundless. He had own private vocabulary. A hat was a “mucket.” A dollar was a “pelican.” If you had a new pair of shoes, he’d ask, “where’d you get those gumboots?” If he didn’t like your haircut, he’d tell you your wig was on crooked.
He hated clichés. You couldn’t talk about a level playing field or touching base unless you were really talking about sports! A friend observed, “he saw through any kind of doublespeak and had a fondness for calling things as they were.”
He was lavish with nicknames. Everyone knows who Poochie is. But how about Deej and Bope and Yiyi and Gubbins and Tante and Spheres and Bee Whacker? They’re in this room. If he was particularly fond of you, he called you an old sack of guts.
He was note-taker and a compulsive file keeper. He wrote thank-yous for thank-you notes. He wrote letters to apologize if he’d been rude. He wrote compassionate sympathy letters. He paid his bills within minutes of receiving them, as if they might otherwise explode on his desk. He could make you laugh until you thought you had broken a rib.
His last two years were marked by dreadful physical pain and disability. But he continued to connect with people, to keep up with world events, to be essentially himself. Baseball and French continued to save his life. He watched the Red Sox, whom he called the Stink Sox if they were losing. He swapped French magazines with his friend and frequent visitor Bill. He read Time magazine and Foreign Affairs journal, making irritated little notes in the margins. “Nonsense! Non sequitur!” He talked on the phone to his friend in Bangalore. The angels of the Colby-Sawyer library—Carrie, Lianne, Wendy, Beth—fluttered in all the time with books. His worried sister called from Florida. His friends from Ragged Mt. dropped in.
His last thirteen months were spent in the Clough Center, its very name full of associations and family ties. One of the nurses had been delivered by his dad. His mother had been cared for in the same building, 30 years earlier. And talk about angels! Marilyn, Michelle, Sherry, Chris, Shirley, Pam, Tabitha, Kathy, more … He wrote their names in a notebook and jotted down, “fascinating life story!” and “nice brave kid.” Plagued by insomnia, he made jokes to the nurses in the middle of the night and kept them laughing, literally until his last conscious moment.
And so, a boy from a New Hampshire town of 6,000 people grew up to hobnob with public figures and celebrities. The skinny kid who was flunking algebra gave back many-fold the attention that his teachers had lavished on him. He died 22 miles from where he had been born, but the whole planet was his home.
He was a husband of 66 years to his beautiful Ruthie. They were a brilliant team, unswervingly devoted to each other and enormously proud of each other’s exploits.
He was proud of his children, too. He left us an example of independent thinking, humor, originality, honesty, and curiosity for the huge fascinating world out there. He left us with a sense of what it means to belong to the human family on this planet, in this time.
Two years ago, my father wrote a newspaper piece for Veterans Day. The World War II veterans, he said, were now moving so rapidly into history that the end of their line of march was in sight. Now he has taken his place in that line. We say goodbye to a husband and father and brother and grandfather and uncle and friend. We say goodbye to a man and to a whole era. We carry his gifts and his lessons with us, and we go on.
Photo credits Woodman Family Collection