Editorial: Farewell to Gilbert the unforgettable

The writer is a 1970 Ambassador College graduate and founder of The Reunion Institute, a Houston ministry. The Journal interviewed Dr. Arnold for articles in the November 1998 and November 1999 issues about his role as a spectator and mediator in the Branch Davidian siege and holocaust at Waco in 1993.

By Phil Arnold

HOUSTON, Texas--Gilbert Wayne Woody, affectionately known as G.W. and Woody, combined in one person so many unusual gifts and abilities that he is truly unforgettable. He was born in Arkansas on July 4, 1947, and sparked fireworks every day thereafter till his death by heart failure on July 21, 2003.

Each of us knew only a small part of the constellation that was G.W. He had so many interests that no one person could ever relate to him in every part of his personality. It was good enough to know just one part of him.

Let us count the ways in which Gilbert was known and was loved by many different people.

Assorted interests

He grew up in rural Arkansas, learning the carpenter's trade by his father's side. There he acquired practical skills with tools and machinery that served him well in future jobs. Hard farmwork and an interest in weight lifting gave him leg and back muscles he never lost.

A close observer of fine craftsmanship, he developed a strong interest in antiques, especially dining ware, that gave him much pleasure his entire life--not just for looking, but also for dining. He was a connoisseur par excellence of international cuisine, especially Greek and Asian delicacies.

He enjoyed Chinese food and furniture. From the Japanese, Gilbert learned the art of the tea ceremony, which he practiced while reading Zen koans and eyeing the sake in the cabinet.

His interest in things Asian was not limited to food and drink. He enjoyed Asian and Indian music with their unique scales, as well as the history and culture of the Orient. I will never forget how a younger Gilbert entertained us at an Ambassador College freshman dance with an Asian theme by entering on a litter, dressed as the Buddha, with his entire body painted bright gold!

He disliked the realm of elitist highbrows, preferring folk art and music. I can see him clapping his hands and swaying to the old folk songs and spirituals learned from his ageless aunt in the Ozarks who sang and recorded many of the old ballads from her Scot-Irish past. He loved the twang of the banjo and the wail of the bagpipes.

Gilbert was fascinated not only by antiques and unusual music but by flowers and plants. He had such a knowledge of flowers and trees that he could recall their names at the drop of a hat. He knew much about herbs and related folk remedies and had an encyclopedic knowledge of modern medicines. He would have made an excellent family physician.

For better or worse, G.W. set little limits to his consuming drive to experience all that crossed his path. Where others were afraid to enter, G.W. rushed in and tasted what was set before him. He simply loved the eccentric and unusual. Smaller and narrower minds found this hard to understand and criticized him. He would raise one eyebrow and continue his quest for the next interesting experience.

On the road

One of Gilbert's favorite books was On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, which depicts the author traveling throughout America, meeting and observing and enjoying whomever he met along the road of life.

For G.W. the world was filled with wonder, and each and every item and person in it was a mystery to be observed, explored and enjoyed.

Gilbert often referred to himself as an "omnivore of psychics and a carnivore of gnosis." Whenever I needed an intelligent and perceptive insight about an idea, person or project, all I had to do was to meet Gilbert for dinner and he would shine that keen mind on the issue at hand.

Despite the various interests that consumed him, G.W. completed his education and went on to work for the City of Dallas as a health inspector and later in Houston as a nursing-home inspector.

Earlier, when he had graduated from Imperial High School in Big Sandy, he had turned down a chance at MIT, choosing instead to study the Bible at Ambassador College beginning in 1967.

Later he finished his degree in psychology from the University of Houston, and in the 1980s he did master's work in psychology at UH, experimenting on the brains of geese. Could the habits of once-living geese be transferred to newborn geese by giving them the brains of the dead geese? Okay, Gilbert, whatever you say!

His constant learning and extraordinary quick mind kept him critical of existing social institutions, like governments and "organized" religion. He disliked authorities that tried to control or restrict the creative human spirit. He was his own man, fierce, independent.

Hand of the Maker

Gilbert had read the Bible through more than a dozen times and enjoyed biblical archaeology. From these studies he gained conviction of the existence of God and the revelation of God in the life of Jesus Christ. As an adult he had been baptized in the Church of God.

Every year Gilbert would organize a fellowship meal for us during Passover season. He said that the complexities of life systems showed him the hand of a Maker and Benefactor.

Consistent with his faith, G.W. benefited others each week in recent years by delivering warm food to the needy on the tough streets of Houston, especially to laborers looking for daily employment. He also had a special concern to help Central Americans find a new life in Texas.

Toward the end Gilbert said to me about helping those in need, "That's what it's all about anyway, isn't it, really?"

As diabetes slowed him, he continued to work several jobs and to collect antiques and a large library, numbering more than 5,000 books. Cut down far too young, Gilbert experienced more about life and more in life than many who live far longer.

Our friend, G.W., kept alive his desire for work, for friends and for good food to the very end. His penetrating humor remained bright and sparkling.

Vaya con Dios!

* * * * *

Gilbert Wayne Woody, 56, is survived by his cousins, Ron Avey of Big Sandy, Texas, Sharon Burgin of Fort Worth, Texas, and Wyladine Barnes of Mountain View, Ark. Mr. Woody is also survived by many close Houston friends at Players Bingo, George's Diner and Liberty Cab and by his lifelong friends Phil Arnold, Everett Oakley, Myra Anderson, Billie Hamilton and Noe Lemus.

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