His gait might be slower these days, walking to his office with the help of a wooden cane.
But Gainesville’s Joe T. Wood Sr. was quick to give his thoughts on today’s state politics and how it compares with the 23 years he served in the legislature.
“I feel like (lawmakers) are not accepting what the people voted them there for,” said the 92-year-old Hall County native as he leaned back in his chair at his longtime insurance business, Turner, Wood & Smith at 100 Brenau Ave., Gainesville.
Take the transportation funding issue, for example. Perhaps the hottest issue heading into the 2015 General Assembly, which begins today, it was also a big concern for lawmakers in 1966, when Wood began his service.
“That’s the thing that gets me right now — these (legislators) that won’t raise the gasoline tax when we’ve got to have it sooner or later,” he said. “We had the same
problem, so we (raised it), and we weren’t criticized.”
Wood, perhaps Hall’s oldest-living former legislator, talked last week with The Times about his service, as well as his early years in Hall and his military and insurance careers.
The wall behind his desk showcases his political past, with photographs of him with ex-governors and well-known Georgian politicos, including the late Tom Murphy, a Bremen Democrat and longtime House speaker, and President Jimmy Carter.
Wood served under five governors and as a Democrat, which was the majority party throughout his tenure.
“I’ve been voting Republican ever since 1990,” he said.
Back in Wood’s day, many decisions were made with lightning speed. And it helped knowing the right people in the right places, as he relayed a story about Lake Lanier Islands’ early days.
He recalled elected officials taking a bus trip to what would become a popular state-owned resort but was then a cluster of islands formed when the federal government flooded valleys to create the lake in the 1950s.
“We got to where the water was and you couldn’t get to the islands,” Wood said. “Some gentleman was with us from Buford who said ‘I’ll call Sen. (Richard) Russell (Jr.) and we’ll get a bridge put in there.’
“So, the next thing we knew there was a bridge put in there.”
Wood went on with the story, talking about how roads were built for the resort.
“So, we built the first hotel and the golf course — or rather, we saw that it was done,” he said. “That’s been my favorite (accomplishment).”
After Wood left office, then-Gov. Zell Miller named him to the Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority. Wood served on the authority for about 10 years.
He also recalled Interstate 985’s development, with the late Gov. Carl Sanders laying the groundwork, and how it served as a compromise to Hall County losing out on being the route for Interstate 85. I-985, running from I-85 in Gwinnett County up to Gainesville, has become a major traffic artery for Northeast Georgia, fueling much of Hall’s economic development.
Wood took his first stab at running for office in 1960, when he made a failed run for the state Senate.
But he also got a taste of politics through the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which he joined after returning from service in World War II.
“I was state commander in about 3-4 years,” Wood said. “I was the youngest state commander we’ve ever had.”
His son, Joe Wood Jr., Turner, Wood & Smith president and CEO, remembers politics being the topic at dinnertime and otherwise during his father’s years at the state Capitol.
“He would leave on Sunday afternoon and come home on Friday, and we’d discuss everything that went on in the week.”
When his father decided not to run for a final term, several people approached Wood Jr. to see if he would follow in his father’s political footsteps as he did his professional ones.
“My interest (was) in building the insurance agency, more than politics,” Wood Jr. said. “I try to support the candidates who share the views I do, but (seeking office) was not what I was looking to do.”
But for Wood Sr., it was pure enjoyment.
“When you get down there and get started, you want to run again,” he said, adding a laugh. “I guess it’s kind of like a disease.”
And though he stepped down after his last term ended in 1989, Wood has kept up with political goings-on at the Capitol.
“I still love politics,” he said.