I was saddened to learn of the passing earlier this month of former Mount Carmel mayor and noted area attorney George W. Woodcock. He was 89. George and I became friends many years ago after learning we both had close family connections to Woodbury, Kentucky, a tiny town in Butler County. The discovery came quite by accident.
One afternoon, I was visiting Mayor Woodcock in his offices located in the former Carnegie Library building on Fifth Street in downtown Mount Carmel when I noticed a number of University of Kentucky items displayed around his office. At the time, I was working for an Evansville television station. “I see you’re a big Kentucky fan,” I commented. “My mother is from a little town in Kentucky you’ve probably never heard of – Woodbury”. George’s eyes lit up. “Heck, that’s just west of Brownsville – where I was born!,” George said. George actually began his legal career in Morgantown, Kentucky, a small town a few miles north of Woodbury. Both communities are very small. Brownsville has a population of just over 800. Woodbury’s latest population was listed as 90. George was even familiar with Cook Cemetery, the place where my mother is buried. “I’ve got some kinfolk buried there myself,” George said. From then on, George and I stayed connected and he was always accessible whenever I needed a comment on matters related to Mount Carmel city government, politics and even some of the bigger court cases he handled as a private attorney.
In my early days as a reporter for the newspaper in Mount Carmel, it was Mr. Woodcock who taught me the importance of having a clear understanding of legal terminology. This came after I reported that a defendant had been “indicted” in Wabash County Circuit Court. At the time, Mr. Woodcock was serving as the Wabash County State’s Attorney. Turns out the defendant had merely been “arraigned” and Mr. Woodcock informed me there was a huge difference between the two terms. “You can only be indicted by a grand jury,” George explained. “That’s one way you can be formally charged with a crime. Now being arraigned is when you appear in court to enter either a guilty or not guilty plea in a criminal case.” I can tell you that George didn’t jump up and down and yell at me for my stupid mistake nor did he threaten me with a lawsuit. What he did instead was loan me one of the law books from his office that contained a compendium of legal terms. “If you study this for a little while, you should be just fine,” George said. While somewhat embarrassed, I was truly grateful for his kindness.
In George’s heyday as a private attorney, he handled some pretty high profile civil cases – often involving nasty divorces or ugly property disputes. On more than one occasion, the attorney on the other side of one of these humongous cases turned out to be none other than the legendary Morris Lane Harvey – now of Mount Vernon, Illinois. Now if you remember George in his younger days, he tended to be a bit on the flamboyant side and was always dressed to the nines. Mr. Harvey was the same and when the two came face to face in the courtroom, it was pure unbridled entertainment.
I don’t want to say that either attorney was particularly “windy”, but once Mr. Woodcock and Mr. Harvey got wound up in the courtroom, there was never any need to turn on a ceiling fan. I can also tell you that if one of the infamous Woodcock/Harvey hearings was docketed to last ninety minutes, you could almost bet on it running the better part of a full day. Whew!
George was a great news source when it came to politics. In 1972 and 1976, he was elected to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention. At the 1972 convention in Miami Beach, Florida, delegates chose Richard Nixon as the Republican nominee with Spiro Agnew as his vice presidential running mate. While Nixon did get elected, he resigned from office in August of 1974 amid a swirling political scandal. At the 1976 convention George attended in Kansas City, delegates chose Gerald Ford as their nominee after narrowly defeating a strong challenge from California Governor Ronald Reagan. Mr. Ford of course had been seated as president following the resignation of Richard Nixon.
Mr. Woodcock also served as president of the Illinois Republican’s County Chairman’s Association and was elected to be a State Member of the Illinois Republican State Central Committee.
Closer to home, George served as Mount Carmel mayor for four terms – 1979 – 1986 and 1995 – 2003. During his tenure as mayor, George spearheaded efforts to eventually replace the narrow and rickety old bridge over the Wabash River that connected Mount Carmel to Gibson County, Indiana. Before the new bridge was installed, motorists had to literally hold their breath as the drove across the 80-year-old 21 ft. wide steel truss span, praying all along the way that they wouldn’t meet a semi coming from the other direction. Thank you Mr. Woodcock and all the others who worked hard to get rid of that dangerous old bridge.
I will remember Mr. Woodcock as a friend who never said no to an interview request. He always took my phone calls and always invited me into his office for a chat no matter how busy his schedule. George always sent me a personal note when he learned I had changed jobs. He often dropped me a line when he read a newspaper article or column he liked. That was just one way George liked to stay connected.
I can tell you that Mount Carmel is a much better place because of Mr. Woodcock’s work. He truly will be missed.