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VOL. 121 | NO. 202 | Friday, October 13, 2006

Wood Taps 'Gift of Gab' in Community Involvements

By Zachary Zoeller

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()
"I believe I can use my religious experience to understand the universe, because that's our destiny, that's what we're here to do. I'm quite rare in that I have one foot in Evangelical Christianity, one foot in science and one foot or arm or whatever in politics."
- Bill Wood
Name: Bill Wood
Position: Part-time Tour Guide
Company: FedEx
Basics: Wood, who is involved in various community organizations, is avidly interested in science, politics and religion.

Bill Wood must have a hat rack the size of the International Space Station.

Involved with groups as diverse as the Memphis Chess Club and the Optimist Club, Wood wears more hats than a mannequin in the window of a Stetson dealer.

He is president of the Northeast Memphis Optimist Club, director of the Dutch Treat Luncheon, on the board of directors of the Memphis Chess Club, vice president of the East Shelby Republican Club and secretary of the Memphis chapter of the National Space Society.

When he is not participating with his various community organizations, he works part-time during the week at FedEx as a tour guide and every Saturday as coordinator of the Pink Palace Planetarium.

More than an earful

Wondering how Wood finds the time or the energy to keep up with so many obligations? Just ask, and he'll tell you all you need to know, and then some.

"Early in life I was told I have the gift of gab," he said. "Whether it's good or bad, I don't know, but I'm grateful for it."

Wood will gladly talk about any of his organizations, but the one you're likely to get more than an earful of is his passion for space.

Born in Memphis in 1950, Wood became interested at age 7 in space exploration. Fostered by his affinity for science-fiction novels as a child and coupled with the United States' fascination with space in the 1950s, Wood began contemplating the possibilities of the final frontier.

"In the 1950s, it was in everybody's conscience that the end of the world was not very far away," Wood said. "I was fortunate enough not to be afraid. I was fertile ground to believe, to have visions of a better future."

As the president of the Memphis chapter of the National Space Society and former executive director of the former Memphis Space Center (MSC) from 1992 until 1996, Wood has been a proponent of science education and political promotion of space efforts.

Making headlines

The MSC's greatest achievement was an "eclipse fair" May 10, 1994, at Halle Stadium in East Memphis where about 5,000 children gathered to watch a solar eclipse, Wood said.

"It was the biggest event of its kind," he said.

Wood set up a telescope, video camera and equipment to measure barometric pressure, and he passed out special glasses for the kids to watch the eclipse.

The event garnered a front-page story and photo in The Commercial Appeal the following day.

A goal of the MSC was to bring a Challenger Learning Center to Memphis, a branch of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, where middle school students apply science and math in space simulations.

More than 50 Challenger Learning Centers operate in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, the closest being the Chattanooga location, which opened Jan. 1, 1995.

The MSC went through an 18-month application process and was chosen to be the location for a center in late 1994. About $725,000 in commitments was raised by the MSC, including of a $500,000 donation by Promus Hotel Corp., The Commercial Appeal reported in July 1998.

The MSC was based at Christian Brothers University, but negotiations with CBU to bring the Challenger Learning Center to its campus fell apart in July 1998 because the university was "not interested in having it there," Richard Leemis, MSC president, was quoted saying in the article.

Rare indeed

As vice president of the East Shelby Republicans, Wood lives out another curiosity - politics.

"The principles I believe in are freedom and the power of education," he said.

A two-time unsuccessful candidate for state representative in District 93 in 1998 and 2002, Wood is not afraid to take action.

He has taken part in income tax protests in Nashville, and he also has lobbied for "space interests" in Washington as a representative for the National Space Society, he said.

"I'm a political conservative and a technological optimist," he said. "The idea of the frontier has always been important in the development of American democracy."

A Christian, Wood believes his interest in science does not conflict with his religious beliefs; instead his faith bolsters his interest in space, he said.

"I believe I can use my religious experience to understand the universe, because that's our destiny, that's what we're here to do," he said. "I'm quite rare in that I have one foot in Evangelical Christianity, one foot in science and one foot or arm or whatever in politics."

A glass half full

One of the reasons Wood became president of the Northeast Memphis Optimist Club just a year after joining was his personable nature, said Ish Green, 38-year member of the club.

"We needed someone who could meet people," Green said. "He's active in everything. That was a good fit for us."

The Optimist Club is a "voluntary organization of civic-minded men and women banded together for promoting progressive thought and action in community service," the club's Web site, www.northeastoptimist.net, says.

While the club has not significantly grown during Wood's tenure, it meets every Wednesday at 7 a.m. for breakfast and to hear a guest speaker at The Crescent Club at 6075 Poplar Ave.

"He's done a great job," Green said.

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