Bill Woods is waiting, but you’d never guess it. After a few minutes of dwelling over his mug of black coffee, another visitor stops by with a warm greeting.
It seems Woods knows everyone in the restaurant.
Then again, the former Kirkland mayor, pharmacist and business owner is a regular here. He holds court once a month with some old friends at the back of George’s Place restaurant. The informal “Old-timers” meetings feature a local speaker discussing civic issues over breakfast and coffee.
“We used to call ourselves ‘Around 65,’ but that was 20
years ago,” he jokes.
Today Woods, 83, has plans to walk over to a Kirkland Avenue building he owns and inspect a basement floor that cracked due to settling. Apart from checking up on old investments, Woods — long retired — now divides his time between Palm Desert, Calif., and a downtown condominium. But his heart is here. He’s still active in the community and organizations he’s helped build over the last 50 years. Serving as Kirkland’s mayor from 1967 to 1973 and as a city council member before that, Woods is involved in the Kirkland Performing Arts Center as a board member and still looks into civic issues, recently voicing his support for the new Parkplace plan.
As a councilman and mayor, Woods left an indelible legacy with the city. Along with other former council members Al King, Dick Shinstrom and Jim Vaux, he helped change the city’s style of government from a mayor-centric system to the current council/city manager administration. As mayor he oversaw one of the city’s biggest growth spurts with the annexation of Houghton, which nearly doubled the city’s size.
“There is no longer an old Houghton nor an old Kirkland. There is only a new, young Kirkland,” says Woods when he was elected mayor of the enlarged city.
He also agreed to help the Northwest Seaport temporarily dock a historic three-masted schooner near Kirkland’s Marina, hoping to lure the floating museum the “Wawona” to town. Built in 1897, the ship was saved, but is now permanently berthed on land near the entrance of Lake Union Park in Seattle.
After his time in city government, Woods partnered with Mr. Kirkland himself, Eastside Journal owner Chuck Morgan, to support the funding and building of the Kirkland Performing Arts Center. The center’s executive director, Steve Lerian, jokes that even though Woods hired him with the promise he wouldn’t interfere with programming, the former mayor’s opinion is always clear.
“He has strong opinions, but he also understands the different sides of an argument,” Lerian says. “He’s a great negotiator, a diplomat. He could always appeal to the people’s sense of community.”
Originally from Jordan, Mo., Woods lived on a ranch in a region of the state he called “The Breaks” until he was five years old.
“It’s rugged country out there. Good cattle country, but not so good for growing crops,” he says.
Winters in Jordan were harsh and Woods sought work that would lead to an “indoor profession.” World War II changed the country, and Montana was no exception. Woods joined the Army Air Corps and was later shipped off to Fairbanks, Alaska, to fly as a radioman and gunner for a B-25 bomber. On his return, the GI Bill allowed him to finish pharmacy school at the University of Montana.
Woods moved to Kirkland in 1953 after working at pharmacies in Yakima and Seattle. He and his wife were happy to finally find a small town they could again call home, Woods says. Back then, Kirkland was about 5,000 residents.
He enjoyed running his pharmacy business. Woods says it was just like the TV show Cheers, “where everybody knew your name.” In 1962 he opened the Lakeshore Pharmacy, which, along with his health care-related businesses, grew for decades. In an ironic twist, the city’s current mayor, Jim Lauinger, purchased the Lakeshore Pharmacy from Woods in 1990.
With the businesses and civic work behind him, Woods takes some comfort from his “Old-timers” and various get-to-know-you meetings. But he worries about some of his friends, who, like himself, are getting up there in age.
Sitting there in George’s last week for this interview, Woods is approached by an old friend, Al Hoveland. The news: another “Old-timer” has just passed away.
“He was a navy pilot during the war — a good man. He was always active in the community,” Woods says.
Contact Kendall Watson at email@example.com.