Eulogy: James Robert “Jimmy” Wood

Eulogy: James Robert “Jimmy” Wood


September 19, 1950 – August 17, 2019

Daddy was a lot like Jesus.

He spent a disproportionate amount of his time with liars, cheats, drunks, tax collectors, selfish people, republicans and loose women. Thank you all for coming.

My dad was so complex, it’s a lot to cover without a seventh inning stretch. (which was created when President William Howard Taft, who was attending a game in 1910 and stood up during the middle of the seventh inning to stretch his legs. Just one last Jimmy-fact for you, except this one is true.)

Jimmy was big, fast and strong, Texas A&M’s coach, Gene Stallings said of his freshman scrimmage that he wished he hadn’t watched LSU play. And Bill McIntyre of the Shreveport Times said he was “Hostile, Mobile and Agile.” That’s why it was so hard on us when he got sick. And why he felt invincible when he beat cancer. We felt like nothing could ever take him down.

But when it came to sports legends that were not named Jimmy Wood, he rivaled Wikipedia for his vast knowledge of dates, stats, titles, awards, facts and fiction. In Baltimore six months ago, I was having dinner with a client when I found out he was a baseball fan and former minor league player. I told him my daddy knew everything about every player who ever played. Max and Bill and Charlie and Eileen can attest to that. I dialed the phone and asked my client to name a major league player from any era. The client did. And Daddy started rattling off the stats for a guy who played for four years in the American League in 1975. My client was so impressed, he jumped on the phone with Daddy for twenty minutes. And became good friends, like everyone did. And then sent Daddy Yankees/Orioles tickets for Camden Yard a few months later. Regi and Daddy just got back from that trip and my client called Sunday, when he heard the news to say my dad sent him the nicest thank you note he’d ever received.

While we all know he could be thoughtless, he was equally thoughtful. He wrote great letters. Handwritten old-fashioned letters. He made a list in March of people he hadn’t told how important they were to him, especially through his cancer treatment. And he wrote to a lot of you here today.

He was sensitive. And could cry over any pain. I saw him cry with Mark O’Neal when Ellen died. And Brad Whitesides when Pam and Kelly died. And Harry Johnson. And Chuck Guelfo. And Max Kees. And most of you when you were really hurting, you knew he would cry with you. And then bring you out of that dark place with a story, and a laugh, and a song, until it was all okay again. When I got divorced, I went straight to his house and slept on his couch. I couldn’t think of anywhere else I would rather be. I know that many of you are fearful of who you will call when you need that. Here’s a hint – call each other. And say “I need Jimmy right now.”

Like Jesus, he went looking for the lost sheep. If you had been rejected by your family, Daddy welcomed you in. I found a lot of you sleeping on my couch on Acadia Street when I was growing up. If you had lost everything, Daddy gave you what you needed. And probably more than he had to give. If you had fallen into bad behavior, he offered you a story that helped you find your own way. That was the thing about Daddy – he knew people were flawed. He knew he was flawed. And he loved you anyway.

About thirty years ago, my best friend, Stephen Shallcross, came over to the house to make mixtapes with Jimmy. They had a great time, as he did with all my friends. And when he left, my dad said, “I don’t trust him.” I said “Why, y’all had a lot of fun.” He said, “He’s charming, good-looking and good with parents.” I said “So?” He said, “I was charming, good-looking and good with parents.”  

My friends, his friends, strangers, people he loved, people he hated… all knew that Jimmy had room at the inn for them. He wouldn’t turn you away, no matter how long ago he had said you were “dead to me.” If you had a flaw, it wasn’t that he didn’t know it, it was that once he told you all about it, it was forgiven. He accepted you with unconditional love with all your flaws, your sins, your weaknesses, your failures. But he made sure you didn’t forget them. Especially if you were a Republican or Red Sox fan. Or if you were Tom Butler and were both.

I was lucky. I knew my father loved me every day. I never once, in my whole life, never had him say “not right now, I don’t have time for that.” He always stopped what he was doing to be with me. And if you called him “Jimmy, whatcha doing?” “Watching the Yankees, come on over.” He was always happier when you came by than he had been without you.

He was a great storyteller. And every Jimmy Wood story got better and better the more times he told it. Especially if it was about how great he was.  He was in the moment. And told you how he felt. With a vocabulary that rivaled any English lit major and a rational argument that was flawless. He loved to argue. That’s why he hung around with so many morons. He had to tell you all about how you were wrong about domestic or international politics. Once I told him he was the “smartest moron on earth.” And he repeated that regularly because he thought it was so funny and true.

He titled his autobiography “When Others Wouldn’t, Jimmy Wood.” Don’t worry, he never wrote the novel, so your secrets were only told at DiGuilio Brothers, or in his living room, or at a baseball game, in a way where everyone knew who he was talking about, but he didn’t actually divulge your name. It was a way to keep you honest.

A youth group leader at a Church in Michigan in the 1990s started making bracelets bearing the initials WWJD.

Tom Butler bought a bunch of them, distributed them to the Bubbas (what daddy’s friends called themselves) and told everyone to remember “What Would Jimmy Do.”

Daddy liked to tell you what to do. As his daughter, or as Harry Johnson likes to call me “Little Jimmy Wood,” I also like telling people what to do. Without Daddy here, as the center of our social fabric, the glue that holds us together, I’d like to suppose what Jimmy would tell us to do, if he were here. So, what would Jimmy do?

First, he would gather us together. It’s always less sad to be together than to be alone.

Then, he’d turn up the music, loud. And choose a good album. You see every problem can be solved by the right song. 

He’d tell us what we’d done wasn’t that bad. Like the time I was crying over a failing grade and he said that if I’d made a 56% as a major league baseball player, I’d be the best baseball player ever.

If we’d wronged him, he would forgive us. Not right away, and with a lot of pomp and circumstance. But he would forgive us. And he’d tell us to go forgive each other. Like Jesus again – forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

He would want us to love. As much as he loved his sister and brother and mother and father. As much as he loved Danny and Brad. As much as he loved my mother. And tell each other how much we love each other. Jimmy would want you to write a letter to someone today and express your love.

Daddy believed in music. He believed in change. He often quoted John Lennon. “Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not all right, it’s not the end.” I believe that. Right now, it’s not all right. But it will be all right in the end. And Jimmy has come to his end. And he’s all right. I know it.

Oh, one more thing in WWJD… he would tell us that it’s time to change the world. Join Max Kees, Danny Ford and Daddy and vote Democrat.

479 479 Stafford Wood
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