Saying goodbye to Frances Woody, a community treasure

Frances at Don Bolden Day

Frances Woody, front right, was on hand the night the Burlington City Council declared “Don Bolden Day” in Burlington.

Local newspapers used to be in the business of creating community treasures. They did so either through stories about people who step up to make a positive difference time after time in the cities and towns where they live or through manufacturing them in-house. The former was relatively easy. The latter takes some doing. Time is a big factor and contributions in words, deeds and images make up the rest. It helps if they are born and raised in the communities they serve so well.

The Burlington Times-News was particularly good at both before, during and after the time I worked there. Longtime editor Don Bolden was one. He was already a community treasure even before I met him in 1984. And he remained one until his passing in 2018, an anniversary we just marked on Aug. 2. Jack Sink is another. During his career with the newspaper he took photographs of nearly every resident of Alamance County at one time or another. And he never met a volunteer gig he wouldn’t take on. Still does.

And Frances Woody makes three. The longtime newsroom administrator turned popular columnist was a fixture in the newsroom before I arrived in 1984. At the time she left the newspaper in her late 70s, she was among the biggest celebrities in the county and easily the most popular writer on the staff. Her columns made people laugh and cry. She basically took care of every bit of stray business in the newsroom, capably assisted by her now late husband Tom when he retired. Referred to in her columns as YKW (You Know Who), I called him the Times-News unpaid intern for life. He was just about the nicest person I’ve ever met.

I think everyone knows where this is going. This morning (Aug. 7, 2020) my longtime friend and former Times-News colleague Charity Apple Pierce messaged me that Frances passed away on Aug. 5 at Alamance Regional Medical Center. She was 85. My heart goes out to her daughters June Forbis and Kathy Cooper, their husbands and all of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They are losing a giant who was at the center of their lives. Find obituary information here.

I met Frances in 1984 when I first joined the Times-News as a sports writer. Even though I was only 25 and in my second job after college, I recognized that Frances ran the show. She organized everything that needed organizing and handled the all-important daily obituaries with steely aplomb. She absolutely hated mistakes and worked tirelessly to remove them from the death notices. She understood that obituaries are important for families. Getting obits right is perhaps the most important newsroom assignment. And she did tons of little-big stuff, too. If we had little birthday or other events in the newsroom, she made it happen. She also called out bad behavior when she saw it. A crude young man like me got her wagging finger more than a few times. Because she was close to my mom’s age, she could make me feel more than a little shame.

“I don’t see you having a mother,” she told me once when my mother was actually stopping by the office for the first and only time. “Do you think I burrowed out of the ground?” I answered, which got a big laugh.

Her role grew exponentially in the 1980s to include writing a column once a week. She provided a glimpse into her lifetime in Alamance County with humor and poignancy. She also offered funny observations about everyday life in the South that endeared her to thousands of Times-News readers. Her column became so popular it was expanded to twice a week.

And yes, she also kept up with newsroom spending to ensure we remained in line with our budget. She knew instinctively that editors can’t be trusted with money.

Lee Barnes, a former editor of the Times-News and a friend dating back to the 1980s, told me before I returned in 2007 that he once told Frances he wanted five years notice before she retired.

One of the pleasures of my returning to the Times-News in May of 2007 after 15 years of working at the Daily News in Jacksonville, N.C., was knowing Frances was still directing traffic, taking care of little but important things so I didn’t have to. Every so often she would look in my door and say, “I’m glad you’re back.” I replied with, “I’m glad you’re still here.”

In 2016, Frances joined Don and Jack in being named Alamance County Citizen of the Year by the Kiwanis Club. I was there that night with my wife Roselee. Frances was deeply honored. Then-Times-News photographer Scott Muthersbaugh documented it so well, as the photos below will attest. Her daughters June and Kathy were in attendance and are in a couple of the images from that night.

Ultimately the decline in newspaper readers caught up. When obituaries were shifted to the classified advertising department and when newsroom expenses became so low no real budget oversight was needed — after all, a directive to “not spend anything” requires little management — her duties declined sharply. When the mandate came from corporate owners to cut a staff member, Frances was the one to go. it was one of my saddest days as an editor.

It was truly the end of an era — an overused term for sure — but there are very few newsroom super-administrators like Frances working today. I missed her every day until that time in November of 2016 that I walked out of the building for good. Frances came to a lunch held to mark my retirement from the news business. She gave me a long hug and we caught up. I saw her only a couple more times after that, just in passing. She attended a monthly lunch gathering of former Times-News staff members created by Charity and held at Occasions. But she stopped coming several months ago. I had no idea she was in declining health.

So today we sadly say goodbye to a community treasure. Such people are rare. Keep them in your memories.


6 thoughts on “Saying goodbye to Frances Woody, a community treasure

  1. When I was a reporter at the Times-News around 1982, all of the reporters started talking in the newsroom one day about what a jerk one of the local elected officials was. Each of us had a horror story to tell about how the guy had treated us, and we all agreed that he was a truly awful public servant. About that time, Frances announced to the newsroom, “I’ll have you know that you’re talking about my brother.” The entire newsroom went deadly silent as one by one, the reporters slipped out the door. I sat there until it was just Frances and me in the newsroom, and I dropped down on my knees and I knee-walked over to Frances’ desk to ask her forgiveness. “He’s not my brother,” she snapped. “I just said he was to remind you that you need to be more careful what you say in a newsroom.”
    Tom and Frances are back together.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We going to miss her very much. She been a such good friends to all of us who lived in Burlington. Especially her husband too.
    She is a good Christian lady for everyone and loved her family.
    Though the years I have worked for a newspaper my life time. Also had a lot of friends there at both newspapers I worked.
    So may the Lord be with all of you who have worked with her back 1987 till she retired from there. We have lost at of good worker peoples though the years.

    Liked by 1 person

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