Clyde Thomas Woods wears a big smile but bigger yet is his laugh. Sizing him up from the shoes on his feet to the ball cap on his head, you’d never believe he turned 100 years old today.
He took his first breath in the Smith County community of Brush Creek and was a baby when his parents, Lillard and Essie Lee Woods, moved across the Wilson County line to Commerce, a few miles north of Watertown. Here Woods grew up with five sisters and seven brothers, while his father built chimneys, laid rock and bricks and farmed.
“I went to school through third or fourth grade. School was held in the Richmond United Methodist Church. My first teacher was Miss Bessie Gibbs, and that’s where I learned my ABCs,” recalled Woods, a man of lifelong faith who worshipped with the Richmond congregation the first 90 years or so of his life.
Terrance D. Davis, pastor at Dowell Chapel United Methodist Church in Watertown, where Woods has been a member since 2011, described the centenarian, saying, “Clyde Woods is quick-witted, very sharp in the mind and has always got a smile on his face. He always has a story to tell us. He is a joy to be around and to have the faculties of mind at 100 like he has is really amazing.
“One thing he does with the church, he’s part of the male chorus, so he sings every first Sunday and when we go out on Sundays and Saturdays to sing at other churches.”
Fact is, Woods serves as president of the Dowell Richmond Male Chorus, and he has been in the group since he was 71, making this his 29th year of singing alto in the chorus. (At 100, this could make him the world’s oldest living choir leader.)
He began working on a farm at the ripe old age of 5 or 6 behind “a turning plow pulled by two mules. We raised everything: beans, taters, peas, corn, wheat, oats, sugar cane, broom corn, tobacco, sweet taters. We raised every little thing,” he said, including such livestock as chickens, turkeys, pea fowls, sheep, cattle, goats and hogs.
“I had to like it,” he says of working on the farm, which for many of those years was without the aid of a tractor, thus, basically, pure manual labor.
His first job as a youth earned him $1 a week. By his early 20s, he was getting 75 cents a day.
In April 1938, he married Ellen Francis Bell. She was 19 and he was 18.
“I liked her when we went to school and from then on, I liked her all the time. We had a good time. We loved one another,” he said of his true love.
The two were married for 72 years, until her death in 2011 at the age of 92. Their union produced three sons: Kenneth, Willie and Henry, all deceased; and four daughters: Gloria, Virginia, Jeanette and Susie, all living.
He has four grandchildren and when asked how many great-great grandchildren he has, he answered, “Oh, goodness gracious. You getting way down there. I got a whole lot of ’em.”
Commerce native Jean Allison reckons she has known Woods most of her life.
“He lived on my dad’s (Lacy Simpson) place. I guess he was a boy when he started working for him. I don’t ever remember him not being there. He raised all his children while he was living there,” said Allison.
“They raised tobacco, and he’d take the mules and, until they got a tractor and a mower, he’d mow the lots and pastures off. He helped my dad feed the cattle and helped him raise hay and tobacco and milked cows. He’s a good one. I can tell you that. He helped raise my sister and me.
“He has a good personality. I never saw him mad. He’s always the same. My dad and Clyde got along really well and had a good relationship. He always worked hard. He’s been a good guy all his life. He still has a good attitude and outlook,” Allison said of the man, who is likely her oldest friend.
Realtor-auctioneer Richard Macon, 75, also a Commerce native, has known Woods since he was in the first grade. Woods later worked at many a Saturday auction for Macon, probably for 25 years.
“Clyde has always been nice and friendly to everybody. When we were young we played baseball over at Lacy Simpson’s lot. Clyde, who was about 20 years older than the rest of us, was the hind catcher. He was always looking out for the young kids. He just had a wonderful personality. Back then he had a nickname, Sheb,” said Macon.
“We helped Clyde shear sheep. We’d catch ’em for him. He would lay them up on a big board, and he sheared a whole lot of sheep. He had a little old Willis truck, and they carried all their milk, five to six cans, to town. He worked hard, and he had a hard life. Him and my mother knew everything about everybody in Commerce. Once he’s gone there won’t be anybody else to tell the tales of Commerce.”
The relaxing lifestyle
On a late summer afternoon Woods sits inside his sparkling clean garage reading a religious periodical. After decades of farming, he was employed by the Wilson County Road Commission from about 1973 into the 1980s before retiring from public work. Five fishing rods lean against the garage wall.
He used to love to fish but says he hasn’t been in a while. He rarely gets behind the wheel of his car but does drives a riding mower helping his daughter, Susie, mow their lawn.
So how does he spend his time these days, removed from the farm since 2011?
“I look at television every day. I look at all of the shows, ‘Family Feud,’ and sports, all of ’em: boxing, baseball, tennis, golf,” he said. “I got a real good buddy, Jim, who lives right beside me. We sit and talk about different things.”
As for his health, he says, “I feel good.”
Asked to name his favorite food, he said, “I eat most anything.” His favorite places to eat in Lebanon include Cracker Barrel, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Sunset Restaurant
A friend shares that Woods has never been heard to say a cuss word. Gently pressed, he said, “That’s something I don’t do.”
Woods, who reads the Good Book almost every day, credits his long life to “the good Lord.” “You know what He leaves me here for?” Woods asks, and then answers his own question: “To bless somebody else.
“You know what I’m happy about?” he says, asking another question. “The good Lord looking down on me.”
As for reminiscing about those long, hard years working in the fields, Woods concludes, “I couldn’t say it was bad. I couldn’t say it was good. Twas twixt and between.”