Alec Woodhull – a life to remember

  • 08, 10, 2016
  •  MLI
  •  News
  • Comments Off on Alec Woodhull – a life to remember

On Thursday, July 28, 2016, Alec Woodhull passed from this life to the next. In keeping with the exceptional way Alec lived his seventy-eight years, we wish to say that Alec also died exceptionally well, courageous in the face of suffering and charmingly considerate of others to the very end despite the ravages of disease. In Alec’s own words, he was concerned to “finish well,” and that he did, just ask the nurses who shed tears when he transitioned out of their care from the hospital into hospice. Though they only knew Alec for a few days, they understood what we all know, that Alec Woodhull was an extraordinary man. In truth, Alec made a difference in hundreds of lives all over the world through the course of a profoundly influential life. Alec was born January 4, 1938 in Summit, New Jersey. One year later, along with his parents and three siblings (Carol, Marta, and Duke), the family moved to Miami, Florida. Alec grew up in Coconut Grove where he mastered the craft of “twiddly-piping” (catching reef fish to sell) and the art and science of sailing at an early age, a skill that served him well on scores of high adventures in the Florida Keys. He graduated Coral Gables High School and attended Florida State University, where while part of the FSU “Flying High” Circus, he met and married Pati Thurmond from Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 1958. Daughters, Shelby and Lauren, were both born in Coral Gables, Florida. Son, Kenny, was born in Knoxville, a few months after Alec moved his family to East Tennessee in 1963 and launched what would become one of the most successful State Farm agencies in the region. For nearly four decades, Alec served generations of policyholders throughout the greater Knoxville area with sincere attention and uncommon integrity. For example, a small red basket strategically placed on his office desk forewarned Alec’s staff that confidential conversations covering more than fenders and fire insurance were taking place and should not be interrupted.

While highly effective in business, some of Alec’s best work was done as a volunteer leader in a variety of organizations and Christian ministries. To mention only a few, in 1970, Alec and Pati started a Young Life club at Farragut High School (still going strong) where he excelled at “telling Jesus stories” and making God’s love real and relevant to hundreds of high-schoolers; in the late 70’s, Alec and Pati launched QUEST, a leadership training program that Knoxville Young Life continues to use to this day; in the early 80’s, Alec served Knoxville Young Life in the capacity of Interim Area Director, became a founding elder of Christ Chapel (UT campus), and led multiple tours to Israel and the Palestine area. In 1991, Alec traveled to Romania in an effort to facilitate the work of an indigenous Christian ministry. In 1993, at the invitation of Romanian nationals and with the help of family and friends, he founded a non-profit organization (now Missio International), purposed to help Romanians rebuild the material and spiritual foundations of their society. Over the years, literally millions of dollars and a wealth of human resources accrued to Romania through Alec’s winsome advocacy. Even as Alec’s accomplishments are considerable, his family and friends will most miss the remarkable person he was, dynamic and full of charm, courageous and tenderhearted, hard-working, generous, and principled, full of devotion, honor and love, especially love for his mother, his wife, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and the One, Jesus, in whom he found a hero to emulate and a Lord in whom to trust. In his presence, in conversation, in the boyish twinkle of his ocean blue eyes, Alec had a way with most everyone. He was a story-teller, an author, a gifted public speaker, a life-long learner, a student of history, a street-wise individual, a great gift-giver, a confidante in crisis, and an encouraging mentor to so very many. He spoke often of the “wonder and awe” of God’s story. He loved to recite poetry and proudly passed on this passion to his grandchildren. Rudyard Kipling’s poem, When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted, was one of his favorites: When Earth’s last picture is painted, And the tubes are twisted and dried; When the oldest colors have faded, And the youngest critic has died; We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it; Lie down for an eon or two, ‘Till the Master of all good workmen, Shall put us to work anew. And those that were good shall be happy, They’ll sit in a golden chair; They’ll splash at a ten league canvas, With brushes of comet’s hair; They’ll find real saints to draw from, Magdalene, Peter, and Paul; They’ll work for an age at a sitting, And never be tired at all. And only the Master shall praise us, And only the Master shall blame; And no one will work for the money, No one will work for the fame. But each for the joy of the working, And each, in his separate star; Will draw the thing as he sees it, For the God of things as they are!

The integrity of Alec’s life and the richness of his legacy are evident in a few of the many witticisms that were part and parcel of his exceptional approach to life, “Life is best lived in seasons.” “Honesty is not the best policy, it’s the only policy.” “If you are not five minutes early, you are late.” “Poise under pressure.” “Be sincere, even if you have to fake it.” “God’s presence is to be valued more than God’s provision.” “All healing is temporary.” To the groom on his wedding day, “Today is when the real courtship begins!” “Celebrate the temporary, and hold fast to the permanent.” To Alec, we say “Rest assured, dear brother and friend, we will remember you and the extraordinary way you invested in our lives. Rest assured, dear father, you were the best daddy a son or daughter could imagine, ‘roots and wings’ for every season. Rest assured, dear husband, your lavish love will nurture Pati’s heart for eternity. Rest assured, dear child, your Father welcomes you into his keeping. ‘Well done, good and faithful, servant….Enter my rest!'”

Now as you make your way homeward, in the words of your friend, Andrew Peterson, we rejoice in the Hope that’s taken a hold of you..Go back, go back to the ancient paths, Lash your heart to the ancient mast, And hold on, boy, whatever you do, To the hope that’s taken hold of you. And you’ll find your way, You’ll find your way, If love is what you’re looking for, The old roads lead to an open door, And you’ll find your way, You’ll find your way Back home. In your own words, Alec, we do not say goodbye. We say ‘au revoir’… until we meet again.

Alec leaves behind: his beloved wife of 58 years, Pati; Randy and Shelby Trusley of Knoxville; grandchildren, Josh (Brooke) Trusley, Jason (Deidra) Trusley, Jenny Wren (Peter) Hall; great-grandchildren, Aubrey, Ashley, Henry, Will, Holston, Kelly and Lauren Clevenger of Knoxville; grandchildren, Aaron (Alicia) Clevenger, Pati Alice and fiancé Jeff Maier, Kenny and Doris Woodhull of Knoxville; grandchildren, Alec, Miles, Maura Lin.

Published in Knoxville News Sentinel from July 29 to July 31, 2016