Mike Woods was the voice of Rock Bridge High School. Soon after starting his career as a home school liaison in 2019, he took on the task of leading the school’s morning advertising.
“Our claim (the morning announcements) will be in my memory forever,” said Jacob Serna, director of Rock Bridge. “Because it may have illuminated thousands and thousands of days, when the number of people who only heard his voice swelled.”
In many ways, this appointment gave Mr. Woods an official role that sums up his qualities for students in high school.
Mr. Woods has been described as persistent, magnetic, positive, consistent, and playful. He was known for being real without hesitation. He was a man of family and belief, as well as his dedicated administration in Columbia Public Schools.
Michael Monroe Woods Jr. passed away on May 27. He was 55 years old.
“Mike was someone who brought the sunlight out every time his voice came out,” said Trista Gilpatrick, a friend and learning specialist at Quest South.
“It’s such a huge presence,” said Anil Witt, district coordinator for the Intercultural Achievement Program at Columbia Public Schools. “It’s hard to believe he’s not with us in physical form anymore, because his existence was so huge.”
Mr. Woods was born on September 2, 1966 in Chicago to Michael Monroe Woods Sr. and Bonita M. Jess. He spent his childhood and teenage years in Chicago before moving to Columbia to live with his grandmother, Leela Jefferson, near the end of middle school. He attended Jefferson Junior High School, where he met Michael Pipes from Columbia.
Pipes remembers that Mr. Woods was shy when he first came to town. But then they shared two classes and played football together at school. They stopped spending time in high school, he said, when Mr. Woods went to Rock Bridge and Pipes went to Hickman. But he said he loved catching up with Woods at the 35th high school reunion.
“He had an infectious laugh,” Pipes said.
Mr. Woods graduated from Rock Bridge in 1984 and Columbia College in 1995 with a BA in Criminal Justice and Administration. He married Tina Woods on February 14, 1998.
While at Columbia College, Mr. Woods was a member of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and began working with Columbia Public Schools as a playground supervisor and class assistant. The position will mark the beginning of a 27-year career of working in various positions within the region.
Mr. Woods has worked as an educational assistant, special education teacher, educational assistant and workroom secretary. He often worked second jobs in community service including Alternative Community Training and Woodhaven. Through it all, Mr. Woods has credited his upbringing in Columbia for setting him on the right track.
“He (Mike) wanted to make sure everyone felt that Rock Bridge was their place,” Serna said. “It became his home. He saw that it could be a home for everyone.”
On the home school contact team he worked for for five years, Mr. Woods offered comedic relief, a no-nonsense approach, and eagerness to learn.
“The guy was a phone book of funny quotes and stories,” said Vince Thompson, a former co-worker and current coordinator of student support services for the school district. “He had a story for everything. He’s always been just a life.”
“He can find the positive in everything,” said Cathy Cox, Benton Steam Elementary School Communication Officer. “And if he can’t find sunlight, he’ll make it shine.”
And Mr. Woods was expressing his thoughts about what was best, whether you wanted to hear it or not. But this was his talent. Mr. Woods called her as he saw her, with a strong insight into humor. His charity came from the place of love.
“He put everything down the line, and he didn’t hold back on any of his punches,” Cox said.
Carla London, chief stock officer for the district, said he was a loyal, active and child advocate.
“He was very thoughtful,” said London, who was Mr. Woods’ supervisor. “It wouldn’t be uncommon for him to call me and say, ‘Boss, I remember what you said about this. So now I have this situation, how will you deal with it? He always wanted to do what was best for the children.”
He supported the students, no matter their background or how many times they got it wrong.
“Mr. Woods was not a teacher to me — he was my friend,” Andrew Whitaker, a 2017 Rock Bridge graduate student, said at a May 30 vigil for Mr. Woods. “This is what it has always been for me, even when I left and had to go to military school. When I came back, he treated me as if nothing had changed. He always welcomed me with open arms.”
“I mean, how many of us have gone into (his office) crazy and crying and ready to hurt ourselves or hurt someone else?” Cameron Chase, a student of Rock Bridge, said at the vigil. “I deserved to come up here and just say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Woods.'” I don’t deserve to be here, because I know I was stumbling, and I was wild, and I wanted to be someone I wasn’t.”
“He always had a smile on his face,” said Chai Cox, a friend of Mr Woods’ family and current student at Rock Bridge. “He was a great second chance person. He believed that everyone deserved a chance to get their education and become and do what they would like to do.”
Mr. Woods loved the Chicago Bulls, soul food, and stylish tennis shoes. He had a passion for building the Multicultural Achievement Program at Rock Bridge, of which he was the sponsor. But what he loved more than anything else was his wife, children, and grandchildren.
“I tried to model my own relationship after Mike and Tina,” Gilpatrick said. “Because they are great partners.”
“I think he understood that if you were a good man, you would be a good husband and a good father,” Witt said.
“For anyone who doesn’t know Mike, these are going to be great tennis shoes to fill in,” Thompson said. “I don’t know that there will ever be a continuant in home school or someone who has the love of life, the joy of life, the ability to develop relationships and calm children and adults alike. I don’t think you will ever be someone who has all these qualities combined into one amazing human being.” That was Mike Woods.”
Mr. Woods is survived by his wife; parenthood; one daughter, Cheryl Woods (William) of Columbia; sons of Blair Woods (Amber) of Atlanta, Micah McElmore of Illinois and Prince Woods of Columbia; Sisters Catherine Woods from Chicago, Belinda Woods Galbraith (Marshall) from Columbia and Bonita Washington from Chicago; and three grandchildren, Umaya, and August Wyatt.
Service will take place at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at The Crossing.