An impactful life: Francis Wood remembered by community

Published 10:45 am Sunday, August 27, 2023

There were two things we constantly heard when asking people about Francis Wood. He loved his community and he loved helping a good cause. And more often than not, the two went together. The longtime station manager for WFLO, known as “The Voice of Southside Virginia”, passed away Monday, Aug. 21, after a battle with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. 

“Francis Wood was a true Southern gentleman,” said Sharon Harrup. She works as president of the nonprofit STEPS and served with Wood on the Centra Southside Community Hospital Board for 17 years. “He demonstrated compassion to those he met and that is reflected in the outpouring of support for Chris and his family. I find it interesting that Francis is known as “The Voice of Southside Virginia”, yet in board meetings or social gatherings, Francis spoke only when he had something meaningful to say. And when he spoke, all of us listened intently as we knew what he was going to contribute was important and impactful.” 

Impact. That word kept coming up, regardless of who we talked to. During his life, Wood served on the Virginia Association of Broadcasters Board, Farmville Chamber of Commerce, the Heart of Virginia Festival Committee, the Moton Museum Board of Directors and the Centra Southside Community Hospital Board, along with the board for Centra Health itself. He also helped start Leadership Farmville. 

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“He was such a gentleman,” said former Farmville Mayor David Whitus. “My wife, Wanda, was president of the chamber and Francis was so willing to give of his time and talents when they started Leadership Farmville two decades ago. He was also so gracious to welcome us, me as mayor, to the Call-FLO show to discuss events and issues. He possessed a genuine caring spirit. He had the ability to handle unique or controversial issues on his show with such grace. He has been a positive part of the fabric of life for the last five decades in the Heart of Virginia.” 

That impact echoed beyond just Farmville and the surrounding area. 

“He was a kind, passionate and caring individual,” wrote Michael Clark. He is the owner and station manager of Praise 99.1FM in Franklin. In a Facebook post, Clark wrote that Wood “took me under his wing when I first joined the Virginia Association of Broadcasters Board. I feel blessed to have known Francis. I will cherish our many conversations about radio, community and life in general.” 

Francis Wood

Francis Wood with some of the many books he published over the years.

How it all got started 

A story about Wood and WFLO highlights his love for Farmville. In 2015, as his radio career had spanned more than 45 years at that point, the Virginia Association of Broadcasters gave Wood the C.T. Lucy Distinguished Service Award and he was inducted into the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. Sitting down to talk with Herald reporter Marge Swayne, he shared about his time at the station, from the time he sent his reel-to-reel demo tape to WFLO’s manager at the time, John Wilson to the present. 

“I just embraced it; I really enjoyed it,” he said. “I love the small-market radio station. There’s an appeal to it. It’s hometown radio, and you really feel like you’re part of the community.”

It was that community, Wood said, and the people in it, that he didn’t want to leave. When asked in the interview if he had thought about going to larger markets, the answer was no. 

“I love this radio station,” he said. “I came in under this umbrella of really talented radio people: great mentors and radio pioneers, really. It was hands-on Radio 101, and I never missed an opportunity to learn from them. So I stayed.”

He loved the radio station, loved the people in the community and they loved him back. 

“Never once did Francis decline my request to appear on his Call FLO show to discuss what was happening at STEPS,” Harrup said. “He was a treasured friend and trusted colleague.” 

Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce director Anne Paulek agreed. 

“With a voice that resonated, and words that found their way into many hearts, Francis Wood was a cherished cornerstone of the WFLO radio station and the community,” Paulek said. “He leaves behind a legacy of inspiration and connection.” 

Francis Wood

Francis Wood in the rolling hills of nature.

Look back and you’ll find Francis Wood

If you look back through The Herald’s archives, you’ll find Francis Wood. At times, it was due to his hunting and fishing columns. A Virginia Master Naturalist, Wood shared his passion with the community in the stories he told. He did that also through the books he wrote. An avid storyteller and author, over the years Wood wrote more than 40 books, telling stories like “The Small Hours” and “The Stone Skipper”. 

But beyond that, you’ll find Wood in The Herald archives through a number of photos. These are pictures not focusing on Wood himself, but you can easily find him in each. You see him working on projects, helping out. That is who Francis Wood was, Farmville community members say. He was always caring, always supporting his community. Francis Wood, they say, truly led an impactful life.

Funeral arrangements

For those looking to pay respects, a celebration of his life will be held on Sunday, Sept. 3 at the upper school gymnasium at Fuqua, located at 605 Fuqua Drive in Farmville. A reception will follow in the G. Price Center. Instead of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the ALS Hope Foundation, P.O. Box 40777, Philadelphia, PA 19107; Southside SPCA, 7352 Patrick Henry Highway, Meherrin, VA 23954; or to a charity of your choice.