Washington resident’s legacy honored 54 years later

Published 7:22 pm Friday, February 24, 2017

More than 54 years ago, a tragedy happened in the Woolard family.

Lewis Edward Woolard, just 48 years of age, plunged to his death while helping to build Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in November 1962. The story printed in a few local papers, but all these years later, it’s a story long forgotten.

For Lewis’ family, however, the story is still very real. His daughter Erma Nobles can easily recall that tragic day when she was pulled out of her class at the high school. Nobles had just recently helped her father pick up cross tacks at the stadium construction site.

“He was on the very top of the press box, and there wasn’t nothing there except steel beams,” Nobles recalled. “I remember that morning he left it was so cold. He was a good daddy. He was a strict daddy.”

She said the university and its fraternities embraced the family that year during the Christmas season. Her mother Margie was left to raise nine children, some of whom hadn’t even started school, on a farm, and Nobles said the fraternities made sure to help.

“It was a shock because I walked in my daddy’s footsteps everywhere we went,” she said of his death. “I always respected my mama because I thought, ‘Man, if she can do it with nine children, how great that is.’ … She worked so hard for us, and her family was her life.”

Son Oscar Woolard was only in first grade at the time. Although he was too young to fully comprehend what happened, the gravity is not lost on him today.

“I think about it every time. I park just right over there intentionally (for football games), so I walk through here every time,” Woolard said. “What I think when I go over there, and I look out, and what he must’ve seen.”

Both Erma and Oscar believe their father had a heart attack while working that day.

This loving husband and father finally received the recognition he deserved, as part of a Thursday morning ceremony at Gate 1 of the stadium. About 35 people gathered for the ceremony, in which a plaque was erected in Woolard’s honor. His six surviving children were there to unveil the plaque.

“It’s emotional because it’s a memory of a person I never got to know,” Woolard’s grandson Graham Boyd said Thursday. “It’s gratifying and rewarding to the children of him.”

The plaque, which reads, “May his memory be ever present in the hearts and minds of Pirate Nation,” was placed at eye level at Gate 1. It is only the second memorial plaque to be erected at the stadium.

“We’re here to celebrate a life. Not a tragic death, but a life,” said Brownie Futrell, who was instrumental in working with the university to create the plaque. “I think Lewis Woolard knew exactly why he was born. He was born to build — to build faith, to build family, who’s represented so wonderfully here, to build a sense of community and to build this stadium.”

Futrell said university officials paid close attention to detail to make sure the plaque was just right. Beaufort County resident Wayne Woolard, who is not related to Lewis Woolard but was a senior at ECU the year he died, also played a large role in making the commemoration a reality.

For Lewis’ family, it’s a commemoration well deserved and long overdue.

Lewis E. Woolard’s loving nature, honorable character and hardworking spirit will now be remembered for generations to come — his story there to greet the thousands of Pirate faithful who pour into the stadium each year.

“It’s why, in my mind, I just insisted in coming to school here. There was no other choice. There’s always a bond for me to this place, and it’s because of him,” Oscar Woolard said.

To view photos from Thursday’s ceremony, click HERE.