By Jeff Cochran
Note to readers: Jeff Cochran, a regular contributor to Like the Dew’s website, also sells ads for SaportaReport. Here is a tribute he has written for a dear friend.
The Hot Stove League will be much colder this winter. Bob Woodland, a devoted Braves fan and great friend, passed away Sunday, October 25.
Bob earned a living as an attorney but lived for the joys in his life: his family and friends, his church and the Atlanta Braves. Over 32 years, the Braves were usually the first topic in our thousands of conversations. E-mail allowed even more such banter. Last winter we chatted endlessly over the signing of Derek Lowe, the failure to sign John Smoltz and how much more Chipper Jones had in him. And just 3-4 weeks ago, he sent me a note indicating the Braves were only a couple of players away from returning to the post-season.
But Bob’s interests and passions included more than baseball. That became quite clear some 20 minutes into our first long talk at, of course, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in May of ’77 as we watched the Braves struggle through one of their 101 losses for the season. We discussed music, politics, his college thesis at The University of Virginia, the optimism we felt for our Midtown neighborhood, and so much more.
It may seem difficult to believe now, but newcomers in the residential areas of Midtown were considered urban pioneers in the mid-’70’s. Even though we were simply tenants on 8th Street at the time, we embraced the good feelings shared for our neighborhood as well as others such as Inman Park and Virginia-Highland. We were young and relished seeing things getting better around us.
But Atlanta could be a difficult place to live at the time. To many, the city seemed on its way down. Even ardent supporters of the city’s renewal were mindful of the crime that was ubiquitous then, day and night. You loved where you lived, but you hated to be on guard so much of the time. One Sunday morning Bob Woodland ran (he was on his daily run, after all) right into the violence and meanness we usually managed to avoid.
Bob was running out of Piedmont Park at Charles Allen and Tenth, a little more than two blocks from his apartment. He and I were scheduled to meet up for the Braves game that afternoon and he needed to hurry. However, something made him stop. On Charles Allen, a car was bumped by the one behind. Minor fender-bender. Both drivers got out, supposedly to discuss the matter but the one whose car was hit began striking the driver of the other car. That’s when Bob stopped. The Braves could wait. He wanted to do the right thing and thought yelling, “Hey! Stop that!” would be enough. It was enough for the guy who was getting pounded, but the assailant then chased after Bob. He pulled his gun out, struck Bob on the head with the butt of the pistol, causing it to go off. The assailant ran off but Bob couldn’t as he had a bullet in his foot. Eventually the police showed up as did an ambulance. Bob was taken to Grady Hospital and he was back home later that afternoon. And thankfully, he was running again in a couple of months.
The pain, the crutches and the sheer inconvenience of it all annoyed Bob. However, he did not regret coming to someone’s aid. Seeing someone under attack bothered him. He believed that life allowed a lot of wiggle room but there were some codes of conduct that should not be violated. Those beliefs and a sympathetic view toward the underdog were the principles that guided his life.
Bob could also see the humor in the incident. The guy he tried to protect had a gun under his car’s front seat. Of course the cop on the scene had a gun as well. Out of the four people involved, he was the only one not packing heat. That did not change his habits, but it was a slice of reality that left him amused.
The shooting incident took place when Bob worked for the Atlanta office of The U.S. Department of Labor. A few months after the incident he was flown to Washington by the department to be honored for his bravery. His bravery was no surprise to us who knew him best, however. Sitting through all those mid ’70’s Braves games took a lot of fortitude as well. But we all knew Bob Woodland was a believer.
Atlanta and the Braves are going to miss one of its bravest citizens, and hundreds of us are going to miss a great friend.