My dad, Frank Alfred Woodard, died today. He was 83 and 3/4. Born on 23rd September 1930 and lasted all the way to June 10th 2013. I’m writing this as i’m a jumble of thoughts and memories. I wanted to jot them down, give them the gravitas of the written word.
Firstly, he was happy that he was the longest living Woodard man. The male line of the Woodard is not given to long lives with the average being the late 60’s. Secondly, he will be furious that he didn’t get to ‘still be playing golf when i’m 86 and shooting my age’.
He died peacefully this afternoon. He wasn’t in pain. He just simply stopped. His body finally not able to keep up with his stubborn refusal to die attitude. Always was a stubborn old sod.
Some facts and figures. He was married for nearly 63 years to my mum and the love of his life, Pat. Married in 1952, the day before my mum turned 20. Two boys, the first in ’61 and the second in ’69. Apparently, they liked not rushing into anything. 6 grand children. Multiple sets of golf clubs. a thousand ever so slightly crappy cars. He sat with me and we watched every World War 2 movie ever made and shown on a Sunday. He taught me snooker, billiards and darts. He taught me that a Brown and Mild was drink to be reckoned with.
He was born in 1930. He was 9 when war broke out. That was when he left school to work at the family business in Green Street Market on their fruit and veg stall. He learned to drive shortly after. He wasn’t evacuated. Instead staying in heavily bombed East London, playing in the bomb craters and watching the Spitfires have dog fights in ’41 during the Battle of Britain. That is some childhood right there.
War ended, he was 15. A few years later National Service beckoned. He was a driver and footballer. A West Ham boy through and through. Good enough to be on their books, going up the ranks until an ankle injury ended that alternative life. He was proud that an ancestor, Dapper Dan Woodard had been the captain in the early part of the century at West Ham and was the groundsman at the ground the night a V2 fell onto the pitch.
He became a ‘diesel fitter’. A mechanic on lorries as i understood it. He met my rather glam (but short) mum. They courted. They got married. How they met and arranged to meet up without mobile phones, email, Facebook and WhatsApp, i can only guess. She was the daughter of a Butcher. What more could you want? Fresh veg and ready access to decent meat.
They lived in Colne Street, not far from Upton Park. I can only imagine how grotty it must have been post war, the bombed out, Victorian terraces with outside toilets. They stayed until they had my brother. Then, they were offered to move to a New Town in Essex.
They took the leap for a better life. Dad had a job that was moving to Essex. Basildon was positively a country life back then, but with mod cons. He worked for Charringtons Coal and then Calor Gas – keeping their lorries on the road. It was skilled, honest, working class work. He worked his nuts off. Never turning down overtime, often working 7 days a week, always 6.
Lightning did indeed strike twice in the same spot and i was born in July ’69 a few days before the moon landing. To this day i feel the news was distracted that week.
We lived in a place called Northey in Laindon. A safe, engineered environment with families who were all East End refugees. I had loads of freedom. When you dad has grown up playing with UXB’s laying around, they are fairly lax on the health and safety front.
The 70’s were a blur of Pontins Holiday Camp at Camber Sands, staying at nans caravan at All Hallows in Kent, Mrs Beasley’s in Cornwall, and just the once, a holiday in Guernsey where we ate endless fresh crab sandwiches. All this peppered with lots and lots of football. He worked so hard for us, that he reveled in the time he had with me and my older brother, Keith.
I remember he took me to Leicester Square to see the Jungle Book. Just me and him. Little did i know i was about to inherit two of his traits. Firstly, leaving stuff behind. We left the Jungle Book souvenir he had ought me behind in the cinema. Secondly, dropping any food down our front (which afflicts all Woodard men, including my children to this day).
In the mid-70s my brother took up Golf. Needing no encouragement my dad joined in. Taking to it with a passion, joining Royal St. Bas (Basildon Public Golf Course). It would shape much of which has happened over the last 30 odd years.
Our house in Northey was a cheaply built, concrete prefab type of thing that began to fall apart. Dad and Mum heard of plans to build a new type of housing estate, it was called Noak Bridge. It was being modeled on a country village. By this time, my bro was thinking of turning pro at golf. A golf trip to Ireland, a chance meeting and a job offer and he was off. Just like that. So we moved to Noak Bridge in 1980 as a family of three. I was about to go to senior school.
He took me to the Charity Shield Final between West Ham and Liverpool in 1980 at Wembley, in the August. after Sir Trevor Brooking had scored the winner against Arsenal in the FA Cup the previous May. At that time youngsters, Liverpool won stuff. Lots of stuff. I remember we were walking the Wembley Way, on the way up to the famous old twin towers, when 2 Liverpool fans told him that we couldn’t go to that end as it was the Kop end of Wembley. I’d never heard my dad really swear like that before. He left them two scousers in no doubt what he thought of their Kop end and where they could stick it. We lost 1-0. Typical Hammers…’fortunes always hiding, i’ve looked everywhere’
Dad was working hard. He was a shop steward at Calor. He ended up working nights as it paid better. I recall, the Coryton refinery and how it glittered of a night from the view in Stanford-Le-Hope. He had work accident and screwed his back up.We had started to holiday in Ireland to visit my bro and he started to have kids;v Nicky, Jason and then Siran. Dad had three grandchildren. He fell in love with the South West of Ireland.
I completely bamboozled Dad and Mum by announcing that i was going to art college in 1987. My dad had left school so young, they really had no opinion on education. It was whatever we wanted to do. I started off doing 3 A levels and dropped two of them, ended up with crappy pass in Art. Not once did they bollock me. They had not context. They came from a background where you went to work to earn to live. Now, i look back and know my dad had a love of history, especially military history. I wish that he could have had a life where he had the opportunity to do something with that, rather than just devour books at home.
in ’88 i started seeing the love of my life, Lisa. Lisa started to visit the house. Dad was always on studiously good behaviour when Lisa was round. Even once famously going to the kitchen to fart, which was so loud, he could have been a mile away and it wouldn’t have changed the sonics.
I confused them even more by then going to Farnham to do a degree in Ceramics. I’m certain that they were freaked out and simply didn’t really get it. But they were happy for me. Happy i was happy. In ’92, i was in the run to my degree show. I remember that i simply ran out of money. I could not afford to get to my degree show. I asked Dad and Mum down to Farnham. We walked around Frensham Ponds. I asked them for, if i recall, £400 so i could finish. I knew it was a lot of money for them. They didn’t hesitate.
When i graduated in 92, they came to the graduation ceremony. I could see he was bursting with pride. It was a photo of them on that day, we put next to one from their wedding day on their Golden anniversary.
Lisa and I moved into together in 93 in Ealing. By now dad was going to retire. His back was knacked. He had a good full final salary pension from Calor. In the mid 50’s, he has tried to persuade mum to move to Australia. London was still on rations, it must have seemed a great move. Mum couldn’t do it. So when he said he wanted to move to Ireland and retire there, he got his wish.
They moved to Killarney that Christmas. The next phase of his life was beginning.
He bloody loved it. He got a job driving American golf tourists around the courses of the South West. He adored it. He was playing golf, seeing his grandchildren, drinking Guiness. He was happy. And the truth is, he was having a better retirement than he ever would have had in Essex.
Lisa and I finally got around to getting married in 2004. He loved every minute of the whole weekend they spent in Blackheath. Their newest grandchild was 20 months old.
He was getting older and now had a another grandchild, Marc. He was still playing golf, watching and reading history books and watching his beloved Hammers whenever they were on the TV. The he started to get ill. Prostate Cancer was diagnosed. He had a pacemaker fitted. His body was, annoyingly, starting to not play along.
2005 and Miles, his last grandchild came along. Completing the 6. He was over the moon.
He made it to 80 in 2010. A big two fingers up to the usual Woodard timeline.
He made it to his Diamond wedding anniversary in 2012. He loved mum as much as day one.
I saw him four weeks ago. The last time i saw him. He was obviously ill. He was fighting a losing battle. He knew it, but that didn’t stop him fighting. My last words to him was that I loved him, that i was proud of him.
I don’t mourn his passing. I celebrate his life. He came from a tough place and made a good life for himself and his family. He worked hard. He was honest. He loved mum and he was an emotional old coot, all too easily welling up when family was involved.
Not long ago, i found an old Super8 movie. On it was a 3 minute film of a trip to Ireland Lisa and I made, must have been in the late 90’s. There is a scene where as they walk up the hill to their house, they are gurning for the camera. Silly walks and everything. That was my dad.
A life lived.
Rest now dad. Have a sweet soul dream. You’ve earned it.