Dr. George J. Wood was a physician, philanthropist, citizen, and friend of many in the small town of St. Helena>, California. Dr. Wood was born June 15th on a farm near South Portal, North Dakota in 1896, the son of English emigrants who settled in Canada in the late 1880s. He moved with his family to Tulare, California in 1908, and entered the University of California, Berkeley in 1913. When World War I began, he enlisted in the Naval Aviation Service. After the war, he resumed his studies and received his undergraduate degree in 1919. He went on to graduate from the University of California Medical School in San Francisco in June of 1924. After completing his residency in surgery, he moved to the Napa Valley to join his brother, Frank, who was farming near St. Helena.
Soon thereafter Dr. Wood established his general practice in St. Helena–a practice that was distinguished by unstinting and generous service to the community. Dr. Wood once recalled a night that he and his wife, Elsie Marie, were ready to dine out when a call came about a medical emergency in Pope Valley. According to Dr. Wood, he resolved then not to resent the intrusion of his professional life into his personal life and to accept the responsibilities shouldered by the few medical practitioners in the Napa Valley. That night was just one of thousands of house calls that Dr. Wood made over the years. According to his colleagues, it was not unusual for Dr. Wood to work from 6:00 a.m. to midnight, particularly during World War II when the shortage of physicians in the community was most acute. Long before the government took responsibility for services to the poor, it was Dr. Wood’s policy to treat free of charge those who could not pay.
Dr. Wood attended a variety of medical emergencies during his 61-year medical career. These included splinting a man’s leg while the two of them were 50 feet down a mine shaft, delivering more than 2000 babies, and performing many types of surgery.
Beginning in the 1950s, Dr. Wood provided scholarship funds for local students to attend college. Upon his wife’s death in 1972, he provided a trust fund to establish the Elsie Wood Memorial Scholarship.
His strong convictions regarding the value of education prompted Dr. Wood to make the first contribution to the St. Helena Library’s building fund. With his leadership and generosity, the doctor led a community movement that built what is now called the George and Elsie Wood Library. Dr. Wood once said that sponsoring the local library had been his greatest honor.
Dr. Wood was honored by his community when named the Citizen of the Year by the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce in 1973, and by his medical colleagues when given the Frederick K. M. Plessner Memorial Award in 1984. The Plessner Award honors a California physician “who best exemplifies the ethics and practice of a rural country practitioner.” In 1988 Dr. Wood received the UCSF Medal, the highest honor awarded by the University of California San Francisco, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to health, education, community health care, and public service. Two years later, a floor of the UCSF MedicalCenter was named in his honor.
On the occasion of his 91st birthday he was honored with a “Dr. Wood Appreciation Day” which featured many activities that included birthday greetings from the President of the United States delivered to Dr. Wood by a parachutist. Of the approximately 2000 babies delivered during his career, an estimated 500 returned to St. Helena on this day to honor Dr. Wood.
Throughout his long career, Dr. Wood was active in both professional and community service. He was chief of staff of theSt. Helena Hospital, president of the Napa County Medical Society, president of the Chamber of Commerce, president of the Library Board, and a director of the local Bank of America branch. In 1986, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, Dr. Wood finally retired after 61 years of medical service to his community.
Dr. George Wood died on May 29, 1997. By a trust document entitled the George J. Wood Trust he bequeathed over $2.6 million to “THE GEORGE & ELSIE WOOD PUBLIC LIBRARY, also known as THE ST. HELENA PUBLIC LIBRARY, INC., St. Helena, California
In St. Helena, the Library and its users continue to benefit from the great generosity of Dr. Wood as his funds have provided for library construction, the purchase of materials, staff training, and more. Dr. Wood’s endowment will continue to ensure the future of the George and Elsie Wood Library and are a fitting tribute to a man who valued education so immensely. His Library, his friends, and his community miss him greatly.
We occasionally get questions from people with paintings signed by “George Wood.” They have asked if our Dr. George J. Wood was an artist. The answer is that he was not. This has been verified in a call to his former medical partner and another call to one of Dr. Wood’s close relatives who said–”He [Dr. Wood] never got involved in painting as a hobby.” There was, however, an artist named George “Albert” Wood (1854-1910) who was a landscape artist. Little is known about this George Albert Wood. WHO WAS WHO IN AMERICAN ART (1564-1975) refers to him as an “impressionist landscape painter” who was active in Massachusetts, Maine and North Carolina.