Woodward, 88, looks back on dedicated life

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Grover Collins, left, has employed Barbara Woodward for 33 years since he bought out the Lewisburg Insurance Agency, and Barbara went to work for him.

A very special person can be found at work two days a week in the back room of Collins and Miller Insurance LLC real estate and insurance office on Nashville Highway. It's Barbara Woodward, now 88 years old, who has been working in insurance since before she graduated from high school.

"There's no more people like her," says Ronald Greer. "When she leaves I don't know what I'll do!" Greer is 73 now, and met Woodward when he was 16, and trying to get insurance for his first car.

"I was just a young black kid," explains Greer, who couldn't find car insurance until he asked Woodward. "She helped me when I couldn't help myself."

Greer rewarded Woodward with a lifetime of loyalty. She still writes all his insurance policies - house, cars, everything. "I wouldn't want no better insurance person than she is," Greer exclaims.

Woodward learned to write insurance while she was still in high school: she had an after-school job with Norris Hardison, an insurance agent here in Lewisburg. He was paralyzed, so she typed all his insurance policies, and began to learn the business that way.

Barbara met her husband, the late Paul Woodward, because he dated her older sister "a few times. Then he asked me to go and I went."

"We didn't have cars and dates like they do now," she said. "Back then most kids went places in groups. Maybe you'd walk to town and get an ice cream cone. We didn't have the money to rip and romp - we just had a good time."

After she and Paul were married in 1940, Barbara remembers parking on the square in Lewisburg on Saturday night, sitting in the car, and watching the people go by. The stores were open then because that was "when everybody came to town and did their shopping." There were also movies at the Dixie, and you could get something to eat from several different establishments around the square; you could even get "curb service" and eat in your car. On Sunday afternoons, they used to go watch a baseball team that "played out in the country."

"I've always been a baseball fan," Barbara says. "I watch a lot of TV. I'm a Braves fan, and I've enjoyed the tennis the last couple of weeks."

Paul was working in the bank when he and Barbara met, but soon the two of them were working together in the Lewisburg Insurance Agency, in the Peoples and Union Bank.

The couple had four children, a boy and three girls, and Barbara tried a couple of other jobs, away from insurance, but eventually Paul told her she had to come back to work for him, so she did.

Paul died in 1975, and it was the year after that that Grover Collins bought out the Lewisburg Insurance Agency, and Barbara went to work for him. And kept on working.

"I just like to work some," she explains. "I would get bored sitting home seven days a week. I think it helps your mind, too - I would assume it does. I like figures."

Barbara gets her ability with numbers from her father, who was a bookkeeper for a pencil company, back in the day when Lewisburg was "the pencil capital of the world."

Of course, Barbara says, the insurance business is "all together different," than when she started 70 years ago. In the old days all the calculations had to be done by hand, and all the typing was done on manual typewriters; the entire policy from beginning to end was written and processed at the insurance office.

Does she anticipate a time when she won't be working two days a week at Grover Collins?

"Yes," replies Barbara. "If I get to feeling so bad I can't come in - or if I got fired." Her arthritis is slowing her down some and she says, "I don't do much walking." Barbara avoids going where she'll have to climb stairs, and she doesn't like to drive far, which prevents her from seeing her sister in Kentucky as much as she'd like.

"I can drive good," she says. Her memories of cars stretch all the way back to pre-school days, when she remembers driving with her mother to Fayetteville in a Model T Ford to go shopping. That trip took "all day long," but, as Barbara says, "It's just fun to go out of town shopping."

Barbara says there's "not really" anything she wished for in her life that she didn't get, and the thing she's most proud of is that all her children "turned out real well." She still lives in the house on Martin Street that she and Paul bought in 1950.

Norma Aldridge of the First Farmers and Merchants Bank has known Barbara for over 50 years, and sums her up by saying, "When I think of Barbara Woodward, I think of a strong person, a dedicated family person, a loyal and generous friend...She is a great example of perseverance and inner strength."