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The Drive to Say Goodbye to Betty Woodward
09.22.15

When I saw the news on FB that my college mentor and friend, Betty Woodward, had died, it surprised me.  Betty wasn’t the sort of person one ever imagined dying.  She was a force of nature, full of energy.  Betty loved life and people and music and hummingbirds.  And she had survived a couple of nasty bouts with cancer and the tragic death of her husband Jim in a 1991 plane crash.  Die?  Mrs. Woodward?  It didn’t compute.

I messaged a couple of friends to ask if it was true.  Each quickly responded that, sadly, it was.  When the information about the memorial service was posted a couple days later, I made plans to attend.

After two years of study at the University of Florida, in 1983 I transferred to Oklahoma Baptist University, in Shawnee, Oklahoma.  Betty was my Elementary Music Methods prof.  When it came time to student teach, I was assigned to three schools in Moore, OK—40 miles away… which was fine, except for the fact that I didn’t know how to drive.

Mrs. Woodward:  “You can ride to Moore with another student who also will be doing his teaching there, but you will have to drive his car between schools.”  Then she drilled me with those piercing blue eyes.  “Do you just not WANT to learn to drive?” she asked.  I assured her that I did want to learn to drive; I’d just never had anyone to teach me.  Mrs. Woodward: “What are you doing at 3:00 this afternoon?”  Me:  “Going for my first driving lesson?”

That I learned to drive at all is a testament to just how gifted a teacher Mrs. W was.  We went out nearly every afternoon in her car—a gargantuan (or so it seemed) gold Cadillac.  I was terrified.  But we kept going out and somehow—through the grace of God and the patience of Mrs. W—I got my license.

After a short trip home to Florida for the summer, I returned to school walking a little taller.  I could drive!  When I saw Mrs. Woodward, I presented my license—and beamed.  (She’d been out of town when I took my driving test and hadn’t seen it yet.)  She smiled, too, then asked, “What are you doing at 3:00 this afternoon?”  Huh?  “If you’re not doing anything, I thought we could go out for a driving lesson.”  I RE-presented my newly-minted driver’s license with an even bigger smile.  “Oh, your lessons aren’t over yet.  Now it’s time to learn stick-shift!”

All my terror came flooding back.  Stick-shift?

That afternoon at 3:00, she took me out for my next driving lesson in their standard transmission car—a brown Subaru with the driver’s side door smashed in.  I didn’t mind so much climbing through the passenger’s side to get to the driver’s seat.  This car was much more my style.

I thought I’d done pretty well learning stick-shift…until a few months later when I took Mrs. W. for a ride in the used car I’d just bought—a 1983 Nissan Sentra, stick-shift.  She got in, looked at the shifter, then looked up at me—“Stick-shift?”  The surprise in her voice suggested that perhaps I hadn’t been the quickest learner of stick-shift driving.  But the drive went well…and Mrs. W seemed a little calmer when she got out of the car than when she got in.  I think that’s a good thing, right?

When I learned the date of the memorial service for Mrs. W, I debated driving or flying.  Shawnee is a 12-hour drive from my home in Georgia.  Perhaps I should fly.  But while scouring travel sites for a cheap plane ticket, I remembered those afternoon lessons with Mrs. W and knew—I had to drive.

And so I did.



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