George’s diner on Kirkland Ave. seemed the perfect place to meet with old-timer Bill Woods. The shiny carmine booths perfectly complimented Woods’ blue-green eyes and sweater. A regular there, Woods was happily conversing with staff members when I arrived.
But Woods’ connection to the diner isn’t surface nostalgia. He was great friends with the late owner, George Mangouras. The pair met one night when Mangouras came into Woods’ pharmacy with a burned hand. It was after normal doctor hours, so Woods took it upon himself to treat the hand with some burn ointment he had made for local doctors.
“I probably would have lost my license if I’d tried that today,” smiles Woods, remembering how different things were in the 1970’s. “George loved to tell people in his thick Greek accent that, ‘Beel saved my life.’”
This WWII veteran grew up in Montana where he graduated from the University of Montana in 1950 with a degree in pharmacology. After marrying the “very pretty” JoMae at the age of 21, the couple moved to California near his sister. They quickly decided they just weren’t California people.
The Woods' were driving through Yakima on their way back north and stopped into a small pharmacy. On a whim, Bill asked the owner if he might need some help.
“The owner asked me when I could start,” says Bill of how they moved back to the Northwest.
Within two years, the couple went from Yakima to Seattle to Kirkland. They spent around $20,000 building a house west of Market Street where they raised their son and daughter. Bill remembers working many hours at Woods Lakeshore Pharmacy and later at Evergreen Pharmacy.
JoMae, who passed away in 2010, helped out at the pharmacy after sending the kids off to school every day. Being together is one of the ways that Bill cites to maintaining a healthy marriage.
“People today often work in two completely separate fields; their lives are pulled in very different directions,” says Bill, who was married to his sweetheart for 62 years.
The couple lived a busy life in Kirkland, which was home to about 8,000 people. In 1964, Bill served on the park board. The next year, he filled a city council position left unexpectedly vacant. Finally in 1966, Bill ran for mayor.
“I spent $25 on one ad. It was so simple to win in those days. I slipped inserts into the statements of my charge customers asking for their support. That would probably be illegal today,” he laughs.
During his years as mayor from 1966-1974, Bill helped facilitate the city’s transition to leadership by a city manager. Bill and the man he hired, Allen Locke, acquired large amounts of waterfront for the city, the most popular of which is Marina Park. The acquisitions were, in part, funded by Lady Byrd Johnson’s initiative to preserve natural lands for the public.
“Many of my peers were upset that we took so much valuable property off the tax record,” says Bill, adding he has never regretted the move.
Old-timers might have a reputation as resistant to change, but not Bill Woods. He often uses the metaphor of house remodeling to illustrate why changes are necessary, most recently directed towards the renovation of Park Place.
“When my kids were young, we built a house with a nursery and it was perfect for them. But, when they got to be teenagers, we noticed that they didn’t want to be around anymore. So, we remodeled the house and were one of the first families to buy a microwave oven. The kids started bringing their friends to the house to watch popcorn pop in the microwave. When the kids grew up and left the house, there was only the two of us. So, we remodeled again, knocking out some walls and installing a nice guest room downstairs where our aging parents could visit. You have to update,” advises Woods.
Woods received numerous awards during his career including the Bowl of Hygeia in 1977, a national award given for community service to one pharmacist per year in the U.S., and the Governor’s award for small business excellence in 1987. He worked for more than a decade raising funds and support for the completion of the Kirkland Performance Center, helped start the first Bank of Kirkland in 1970 and has served as the president of the Kirkland Jaycees, the Kirkland Rotary Club, the Washington State Pharmacy Association and the Greater Kirkland Chamber of Commerce.
He and JoMae, often called by her nickname, “The First Lady of Kirkland,” were absolutely formative in building up this city to where it is today.
“I see a bright future in Kirkland,” Bill assures residents.
Bill spends much of his time downtown, where he now lives after downsizing from his house to a condo. He and other old-timers get together frequently, often in the back room at George’s. Bill loves connecting with his five granddaughters and three great-grandchildren, one of whom is a boy (“Finally!”). During winters, he escapes to the warm and dry Palm Desert, where he enjoys playing golf.
As we left the busy Saturday morning crowd at George’s, he walked me to my car, which was on his way back to his condo, chuckling that everyone was going to be asking him the identity of his new girlfriend.
“I may be 86 years old, but I don’t feel 86,” says Bill Woods, summing up the mantra of the young at heart.