Bob Woodie Memorial

Bob Woodie at the pass in Glacier National Park.
Bob Woodie Glacier National Park 2013.

My Pops

My "Pops"  was Bob Woodie who was a 56-year resident of Manhattan Beach, a suburb of Los Angeles. When he failed to return from a hiking and fishing trip in the eastern Sierras on October 16, 2016 a massive multi-regional search and rescue mission was launched. But even with six days of perfect weather no evidence of him was found. The facts suggest he was the victim of a rock slide.

 

Bob is survived by is loving wife Joanne, sons Robert, Tim, and Todd (deceased),

Bob Woodie with granddaughter Jessica.
Bob Woodie circa 2009.

and grandchildren Jessica, Clara, Kayla, Caden and Ryan. After retiring with 30 years of service as a butcher he spent the last 13 years as the soul proprietor of a successful handyman business. Those lucky enough to have known him will tell you he was a humble, simple, and very capable man. His handyman clients delighted in reporting the high quality of his work and his practice of under charging. For him, work was less about the money and more about engaging with nice people on a daily basis.

 

Bob was always young-at-heart and very involved in his sons’ lives. He was always ready to join the fun when he got home from work. No matter what the game, baseball, soccer, touch football, he made it fun.

 

As a grandfather, he was the dependable go-to for last-minute babysitting and a constant presence at all his grandkids’ sporting events. Grandfather Bob relished any opportunity to spend time with the newest members of his beloved family.

 

Bob was an avid backpacker and fisherman and had his sons in the backcountry by the time they were playing little league baseball. The annual summer backpacking trips with Pops lasted well into adulthood. Later, the trips would occasionally feature his grandchildren. If Bob couldn’t find anybody to go with him he would go by himself. Indeed, he was by himself on his last trip. The eastern Sierra backcountry was his church and he worshiped at the altar of its trout fishing.

 

Bob will be remembered for his gentle spirit and his penchant for helping without being asked. If he had a mean bone in his body his three sons never saw it. He never criticized or complained and was a classy man with old-school values to the end.   His passing will leave large holes in the lives of those close to him. May he rest in peace and may his spirit of adventure and kindness live on in his children, grandchildren, and all those who loved him.

Please Help Us Remember Bob

An endowment has been set up through the Sierra Club Foundation to that will contribute annually in Bob Woodie's name to programs connecting children with nature.  Our goal is to raise $100,000 and we need half of that at a minimum to meet the foundation's requirements.  Would you please click on the link to the right and help us memorialize this very special person who was taken too soon.  Your donation is fully tax deductible.

The Search for My Pops

Easy Reader Beach Magazine: Searching for Pops

Published in the December 8th Easy Reader Beach Magazine, this is account of the 6 days I spent in the backcountry searching for my Pops. It includes the rigors of high-elevation backpacking, the interactions with the professional Park Service search and rescue workers, and a recount of the emotional burden the fruitless search became.

Searching for Pops

Video Account of the Search for Pops

 

For 6 days and 5 nights well below freezing a massive search and rescue operation was launched to find Bob.  His two sons and a couple buddies joined in the effort.  The video below captures the effort from his sons' perspectives.

Bob Woodie, a Life Worth Remembering

My Eulogy,  January 14, 2017 delivered at Kiwanis Club, Hermosa Beach.

 

It’s been nearly 3 months now since Pops’ death.  I would be lying if I told you I didn’t STILL wake up every morning thinking his passing was a bad dream.  There are OK days but there are MOSTLY low days where the hole in my life overwhelms.  To say that I am tired of feeling lousy all the time would be an understatement.  Time has slowed radically for me during this period, and I’ve spent many hours writing down my thoughts and feelings about the passing of my dad. Today, I look MOST forward to hearing about your memories of Bob and how he affected your lives. But FIRST let me share with you what 53 years as his son revealed to BE his defining traits, AND try to capture the essence of what made him a great father and role model worth remembering.

 

In re-reading my notes from the week my brother and I searched for Pops, the first three words I wrote were “gone too soon”. When a spirit like Pops is lost so unexpectedly, it is natural to wonder why they were taken when they were.  Pops was clearly capable of the 12-mile hike he had embarked on, and he had recently had an excellent check up with his doctor. Without the accident, he probably had two good decades ahead of him. But we can’t predict the unexpected. And as we get older and more people close to us pass away, it becomes clear that time is a GIFT given without guarantees.  We can never be SURE there will be more time than the present moment.

 

I think Pops knew this. I have never known anyone who made better use of his time. For as long as I can remember, he rose before dawn and fished, biked, or worked until after dark.  His dinners in the summertime were often well after 9 PM because he needed to “make the most of the daylight”.  The mornings of our backpacking trips together were often a contrast in priorities.  I preferred to catch up on needed sleep while he rose before dawn to make coffee and head off to fish. If our camp didn’t have fishing available, I could be sure by the end of his second cup of coffee that I was getting a wake-up visit. He didn’t want to waste a minute of the day.

 

I think he adopted this attitude at an early age. His uncles were crazy about the outdoors and long before California had freeways, they would take off on a Friday afternoon and drive 24 hours straight to get to Crowley Lake for its trout fishing. They would fish for a full day and then turn around and do the same 24-hour drive to make it back to work on Monday. Pops went with his uncles a number of times, and clearly not only shared their penchant for the outdoors but also their inclination to make the most of their time.

 

A skilled backpacker yes, but Pops was prone to forgetfulness. On a backcountry trip in Yosemite, we planned to spend the night at the base of Half Dome before beginning our climb in the morning. This camp was known for its bear activity and we were required to put all our food in nearby lockers. As we tidied up camp for the night, I reminded Pops several times to remove all the food from his pack. But come the morning, his backpack was missing. He was positive he didn’t leave any food in it, and we spent the better part of the morning looking for it, even checking other CAMPS, suspicious someone had taken it. By the end of the day we were ready to cut our trip short when one last pass found Pops’ pack several hundred YARDS from camp. It was about the same time he finally “remembered” he left salami in the top pouch.  Amazingly the pack appeared to be intact, but closer inspection revealed a hole chewed in the top AND an empty compartment that once held the salami.

 

Even when not backpacking, Pops always remained active. As a kid, I remember Pops exercising every day by either riding his bike, walking or working around the house. I actually got tired of my friends ALWAYS telling me they saw Pops riding his bike.  His favorite birthday saying was “you’re only as old as you feel”. He said age is just a number and if you take care of yourself you will look and feel a whole lot younger than you are.

 

PAUSE

 

In the same vein, Pops thought that people should change their careers every 10 years.  His logic was that this discipline forces you to continually learn throughout your life and keeps your work from getting stale and unfulfilling.  He made a change in his career when he retired as a meat-cutter and became a handyman. He talked often about the importance of work throughout one’s life; often mentioning how nice his clients were and how invigorating the mental challenges were that came with the problems he was hired to fix.

 

Although he loved his work, his family always came first. A loving husband, father and grandfather, he was always present in our lives. Whether it was pitching little league batting practice, leading a family backpacking trip, watching the grandkids on short notice, cheering from the stands, or sharing life’s insights, he was always there for us.

 

When Tim and I were in college my parents divorced and I remember having my first deep conversation with Pops while driving HOME together from college. He was very candid about the reasons for the divorce but in his typical GENTLEMANLY way never spoke an ill word about my mother. Pops lived by a HIGH set of standards. Despite how good your reasons, you simply never condemn someone else.  And you CERTAINLY don’t make this world a better place by getting what you want at the expense of others.

 

30 years later I went through my own divorce and we had another serious talk on the way to one of our many backpacking trips. He was once again open about the reasons for his divorce as I asked a lot of questions NEEDING to compare his experience with mine. But what struck me the MOST was him making it clear that after 30 years of marriage to Joanne, he was still very much in love. Whether it was his intent or not, it was comforting to have his example of how a life can renew and love can be born again.

 

Growing up, my mom and her Kingdom Hall went to great lengths to teach us about the life of Jesus. As far as I know, my dad never stepped foot in a church but his example was more altruistic than anybody I ever met. He never cursed, rarely spent money on himself, and only drank an occasional glass of wine.  He loved to help people and gave generously of his time and money.  He purposely undercharged his handyman customers, and the elderly frequently didn’t get billed.  He could be counted on for words of encouragement, silent support, and camaraderie during the tough times in your life.  He overflowed with love for his family, the outdoors, and the community of people he enjoyed LIVING with and working for.

 

Pops loved to tell the story of two close family friends Danny Lemieux and Chris Summers during a hike to the summit of Mount Whitney. Mount Whitney, well over 14,000 feet, is the highest mountain in the continental United States. It’s a hike that typically takes two full days and one made more difficult by the elevation.  Battling dehydration and altitude sickness, Pops told of how Danny talked himself and Chris up that mountain. They made a very difficult climb possible with mutual empathy and encouragement. The effort and determination he witnessed on that trip struck a special cord with Pops. And I think the experience deepened his appreciation for the quality of the friends his sons had made in THEIR lives.

 

 

For someone born on a farm in the Midwest, it was not surprising that Pops was conservative in many ways. But Pops impressed me AS often with his open-mindedness. When our daughter announced her sexuality four years ago, I made it a point to let friends and family members know personally. I wanted to protect my daughter from any signs of intolerance. When I told Pops, I had expected his conservative nature to come to the surface. He certainly fit the mold of someone who would be less than tolerant of nontraditional lifestyles. But much to my surprise, Pops never raised an eyebrow. He said her sexuality was irrelevant to him and Joanne and in no way affected his love for his granddaughter.  And true to his form, Pops not only said it, he lived it.  He was fierce in his love and support of all his grandchildren and there was nothing that was going to change that.

 

 

He was so proud of ALL his grandkids and their accomplishments. Before passing, Pops was able to see his granddaughters Jessica and Clara graduate from university and begin fulfilling work lives; his granddaughter Kayla excel in the sciences in high school and his youngest grandson Ryan show great promise as a musician and entertainer; and finally he witnessed grandson Cayden earn his Eagle Scout badge while blossoming into a formidable water-polo player.

 

When he wasn’t around his grandkids, I was able to plan some trips for us that took Pops away from his beloved Sierras.  Confronting a charging grizzly is easily the most vivid memory I have from those trips.  We were in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone and had just finished cooking and eating our freeze-dried dinner.  We were standing side by side but LOOKING in opposite directions. It was raining and visibility was dropping with the dusk.  We were talking about our disappointment at not seeing much wildlife when Pops started gesturing and grunting but not SAYING anything I could understand.  Turning to investigate, I saw a grizzly bear charging our camp ABOUT 80 yards away.  After collecting ourselves, we yelled and did jumping jacks.  Once the bear realized we were human and NOT the beef stroganoff he had smelled, he stopped, made a 90 degree turn, and bolted into the forest.  Our favorite part of that story WERE the noises Pops’ made as the bear came into view.  We must have recounted that story several dozen times, embellishing it with each telling.

 

As much as I loved Pops, I will admit he had a few quirky signature habits:

 

Nothing excited dad quite as much as saving money. Pops loved to tell the story about his uncles – the same ones who took him fishing. They owned a wrecking yard locally back in the 50s and 60s.  When the cars would come in they would cut OUT the gas tanks as a safety precaution. For years, Pops never had to pay for gas because he was allowed to use the old gas in those tanks. He always loved a good deal and held a SPECIAL place in his heart for the THINGS in life that were free.

 

Pops lived and raised a family at the beach and loved fishing but I am certain he did not know how to swim.  Indeed, the only time I ever saw him go completely under water was during a family-rafting trip down the Grand Canyon.  On the second to last day of the trip, the outfitters stopped the raft to prepare lunch. The temperature on the sand was close to 120 degrees.  Pops’ granddaughters decided they wanted to see Papa go completely under the water so they made a bet with him.  Whoever was in last place rolling down the sand into the water had to go in ALL the way.  Obviously this was a thinly veiled ploy but Pops played along and with such INTENSE heat I believe he was going to dunk under regardless.  He lost the competition and was good to his word to the delight of his granddaughters.

 

The one habit that always got me was his refusal to close a car door hard enough to latch on the first try. It was like somebody had convinced him at an early age that you could break the car by slamming the door. So he would gently press the door shut but then also have to lean his hip into it to get the door to fully close. All my logic as to why his process was MORE likely to create a dent in the sheet metal did no good. Perhaps there was too much gentle-ness in him to slam a door.  I’m certain the last thing he did when closing his door at the South Lake Trailhead was lean his hip into it.

 

I mentioned in my Easy Reader piece that if my Pops had a mean bone in his body I never saw it. He was humble and gentle throughout his entire life. He had the rare trait of helping you with something without needing to be asked. He didn’t like the spotlight and was always happy to stay in the background away from praise and accolades. Indeed, a good friend commented that a 7,600-word article about Pops on the cover of Beach Magazine would have embarrassed the shy man.

 

 

REALLY SLOW DOWN HERE

 

Not long after returning from the Sierras I was talking with Joanne and she made the comment of how lucky she felt to have had Pops in her life. They were together 35 years and at FIRST I thought the comment a bit understated. However, the word came up again in correspondences with loved ones saying how lucky I was to have Bob as a father. I have noticed with the recent loses in my life that some of our greatest insights arise soon after the passing. I ultimately came to realize that indeed, Joanne, myself, and the rest of my family truly WERE lucky to have had Pops in our lives.  I’ll bet most of you are HERE today because you feel lucky in some way to have HAD Bob Woodie in yours.  This gentle MAN with thoughtful insights, a strong work ethic, and a time-tested approach to life was a rare and special person.  In his presence, you felt his only agenda was his love and friendship. He was there to support you in some way and to enjoy your company, period. In many ways losing him feels like your favorite team just lost their All-Star. It will carry-on but won’t be quite as good. His life portrait is one of generosity and service. When you constantly are on the lookout for ways to be useful to others, your acquaintances multiply and your friendships deepen. The sea of people in attendance today is testimony to the power of his approach to life. He deeply loved his friends and family. He was the type of person worthy of remembering the rest of our lives. How lucky we ALL were to have known him.

 

 

I will be leaving soon for extended travel but have promised myself that the next couple summers I’ll fly back in August to hike and fish the Palisades Basin. Pops’ camp at lower Barrett Lakes, a hidden gem of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is two miles from where he likely died in the rockslide. Being there within a week of his passing, I experienced his excitement for the place in a strong and PROFOUND way.

 

 

The setting is one of cobalt blue skies framing dark, 14,000-foot peaks, set above crystal clear lakes ringed by gray granite benches. Most of you knew Pops as the nice handyman who drove his SUV to your job. Many have told me they still picture his smile and his ever-present cup of coffee. This was certainly the picture most of us will hold of Pops.  But if you want to remember him in THE setting he loved the most, where he hiked each year for 4 years straight, please come up with us in August.  To reach Pops’ resting place you will have to be in excellent physical shape and be prepared to withstand the discomforts of altitude sickness in particular and backpacking in general. But as you see from the photos, the rewards will be a sublime landscape that few have enjoyed.  However, this will be just part of your experience. To complete your appreciation of what brought Pops spiritual renewal well WORTH the risks, you will also need to make several casts into upper Barrett Lake.  When the first pan-sized trout strikes, your heart will race and your senses will quicken.  After you hook, coax, LAND, and gently release the High-Sierra trophy back to its home, you will connect with the MAGIC that sustained Pops.  On your next cast you will need to pause, slowly drink in your surroundings, take a DEEP breath of alpine air, realize HOW lucky you are, and by doing so FULLY honor the essence of a man that longed for little else.