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Sylvia Lucena Woodgates

Posted By Hall-Wynne On October 6, 2018 @ 12:23 pm In Durham,Obituaries | 8 Comments

After living for 103 years in certain hope and for many uncertain months in home hospice, on October 6th Sylvia Lucena Woodgates was finally conveyed into Paradise and the Lord’s presence to be reunited with her mother and father, brother, husband, first-born son, daughter and countless other relations and friends. How thrilling it must be for her to begin partaking of the pleasures at God’s right hand “for evermore.”

Syl’s funeral, with reception following, will begin at 11:00 am Wednesday, October 24 at Church of the Holy Family (Episcopal), 200 Hayes Road, Chapel Hill. Right afterwards, at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 82 Kimberly Drive, Durham, her ashes will be committed to a place next to those of her husband, the Rev. George M. L. Woodgates (who died in 1990).

Born Maidie Lucena Turner in St. Petersburg, Fla. on October 8, 1915 to physician parents Arthur Russell Turner and Lucena Eddings Turner, her first name proved too difficult for some people to remember (is it Maisie? Maddy?). Her mother came home one day and threw the infant onto a bed, declaring, “We are changing this child’s name!” From her father’s side of the family “Sylvia” was chosen to replace “Maidie.”

The sudden death of Arthur Turner when Sylvia was just six years old left her mother all alone to raise her and her adopted older brother, Horace. Their mother moved the family to Southern California to be close to her own parents while struggling to open a private medical practice (in Los Angeles in 1910 she had become the first female graduate of the College of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons). When the Great Depression came she had to send Sylvia to Winchester, Mass. to attend high school while living with the family of a prosperous sister.

Sylvia’s reluctant return in 1933 at age 18 precipitated a spiritual revival for the somewhat worldly young woman. That led to her enrolling in Southern California Bible School (now Vanguard University) in Pasadena, where she graduated in 1937 with a degree in Sacred Music. She was soon employed for several years as a music instructor at the Monte Vista Christian School in Watsonville, Calif. While there, in addition to performing in local churches with The Sharon Singers and organizing a young men’s a cappella gospel quartet, she occasionally played piano at recreational gatherings for young men in the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was during one such sing-along in the winter of 1941 that she met George Woodgates, a 26-year old CCC supervisor from Hanford, Calif. They were married on July 19. Just six months later, following the start of the Second World War and George’s deployment with the Army Air Force to North Africa and later Italy, they became separated for three-and-a-half years.

After the War they lived in Hanford, building a small house and farming near George’s parents’ ranch. But after the stillborn death of their first child, David Allan, in 1947, George felt called to the ordained ministry. They left farming and moved to Berkeley, Calif. where George could attend an Episcopal seminary. There, in 1950, they rejoiced at the birth of a daughter, Deborah Jeanne. Two years later, son James Russell was born.

Following George’s ordination in 1952, the family moved to Fresno, Calif. During the next six years George successfully planted an Episcopal mission (now St. Columba Church) while Sylvia looked after the kids and provided piano accompaniment and direction for the church choirs and Sunday school. In 1958 George answered an unexpected calling from Illinois to become assistant rector of Christ Church, Winnetka. But by late 1959, the family was living in Greenwich, Conn., after George accepted an appointment to The Episcopal Church’s National Council (now Executive Council).

During seven years in Greenwich, Sylvia expanded her musical talent by learning to play the pipe organ and becoming a successful substitute church organist. At a time of rapid social change and creeping confusion within the church, Sylvia’s comprehensive Bible school education enabled her to also give wise spiritual counsel to many clergy wives.

In 1966, George was eager to return to California and church planting, this time in Bakersfield. The barren sun-parched oilfields of Kern County are very different from the leafy landscapes of Greenwich. So, too, are the cultural and spiritual landscapes. But Sylvia persevered and made the most of the next 14 years. She saw Debbie marry the boy next door (from a couple of blocks away, actually) and Russell graduate from college and get a good job in Washington. Sylvia also co-founded the Kern Adult Literacy Council, based on the pioneering methods of Christian missionary Frank Laubach. Together, she and George successfully ministered to the growing congregation of All Saints Episcopal Church (now All Saints Anglican), incorporating elements of the charismatic renewal and Cursillo movement.

In 1980, at age 65, George and Sylvia retired to Chapel Hill, NC. Over the next 10 years they made many friends there and in Louisburg, Roxboro, and Durham, where George worked as an Episcopal supply priest. They also toured Israel and Great Britain and traveled across North America. That all ended with George’s death in 1990, leaving Sylvia alone as a clergy widow, unsettled about her identity and purpose.

Within two years, though, she was busy lecturing (“Birds of the Bible,” “From Tent to Temple”) at the Duke Institute for Learning in Retirement, playing piano for eurhythmy sessions at The Waldorf School, getting certified as a Spiritual Director and leading Bible and book studies in her home. As a member (since 1960) of the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, she led “quiet days” at area churches. At Church of the Holy Family she moderated Sunday morning discussion groups, co-founded a healing prayer team and trained parish lectors. She was even awarded a free membership at Curves for Women by the managers who were so impressed that in her mid-nineties she was participating in workout sessions two or three times each week.

The premature death of Debbie in 2005 was a deep sadness for Sylvia, though tempered by a continued connection to Debbie’s now-married daughters, Sarah Lucena (Flores) and Emily Grace (Elizondo), both living in California. The birth in 2016 of a namesake great-granddaughter, Sylvia Evangeline Flores, was a unique honor.

Sylvia Lucena Woodgates will be missed for many things, including her good cooking, easy-going temperament, quick smile, generosity, enthusiastic piano playing, and ability to recite Jabberwocky at a moment’s notice. Her legacy as a “spiritual mother” to many women (and some men) is especially noteworthy.

Even as a little girl it was said, “There’s always a patch of blue sky over Sylvia.” Her persistent trust in God (as a six-year old telling her just-widowed mother as she paced the floor, “Don’t you know worry is a sin?”), her unwillingness to criticize (“Well, I can think of worse things.”), and her gentle but persistent urging to seek God’s help when struggling with negative impulses (“Just ask Jesus to put his love/forgiveness/patience/right attitude in you.”) were always hard to resist.

Play on, Syl!


Condolences for the family of “Sylvia Lucena Woodgates”

Condolence from Marjorie Lee Coupland on October 7th, 2018 7:38 pm

Aunt Sylvia was very special to me and my sister Susan who also is in heaven. As children we remembered her as a cheerful person who could entertain us on the piano which led us to dancing around the living room. She was a good cook and she taught us to enjoy new foods. God used Aunt Sylvia to help us grow in our spiritual lives…what could be more important?

Even though we lived across the country from each other I will miss her.

God is good. She will be lovingly remembered.

Condolence from Cathy Leslie on October 7th, 2018 10:17 pm

I learned so much about Sylvia reading all of this. She continues to amaze and inspire me. So glad to know your family!

Condolence from Sally Fisher on October 8th, 2018 2:24 pm

I am thinking of Sylvia especially today on what would have been her 103rd birthday. Sylvia has been a close Companion and friend since 1984, and although I miss her dearly, I will always be inspired by her faith and optimism.

Condolence from Doug and Becky Patteson & Family on October 8th, 2018 11:25 pm

Our condolence to our family Russel and Sarah and Emily and their families at the passing of their mother and grandmother. We wished we lived closer so we could have visited her.When we lose a loved one here on earth, we gain an angel in heaven that watches over us. May you take comfort in knowing that you have an angel to watch over you now. We extend our most sincere condolences to you.

Condolence from Jill D. Davis on October 10th, 2018 9:41 pm

The family of Martha Eddings Davis, were often regaled with her stories of “Cousin Sylvia” and their teenage escapades in La Crescenta, California. I got to meet Cousin Sylvia in 1977 when my husband, Raymond, Martha’s 3rd son, and I were on furlough from Africa and living in Pasadena. Ray’s parents, Martha and Linnell, had come out from Florida with Martha’s mother Gara Eddings to visit, and Sylvia and George came down from Bakersfield to see them. It wasn’t until years later when Sylvia was living in Chapel Hill and George was in heaven that we visited Sylvia during furlough trips in the East. She always gave us a cheery welcome and even in her 90’s she cooked us a delicious meal. Best of all was the stimulating conversation with many endearing memories of her family and her beloved George. We’re looking forward to meeting again in heaven where we know she was reunited with her kindred spirit, “Martha Fe.”

Condolence from Lorna Patteson Frazer and Family on October 11th, 2018 12:11 am

I’m so sorry to hear about Auntie Sylvia’s passing. I will always have fond memories of her in Hanford and Bakersfield. She taught me how to cut up a whole pineapple, which I still do today. Sending my love to Russel, Sarah and Emily. Wish I could be there for the funeral.

Condolence from Paul Sundberg on October 13th, 2018 11:40 pm

Russ, my heartfelt sympathy for YOU, left behind to ‘fight the good fight with all your might’ here below, but how comforting to know Maidie-Sylvia died peacefully in the Lord after her century plus and has gone on to enjoy the many treasures in heaven she created while here on earth. There, she will have “no less days to sing God’s praise” than when she first began!

Condolence from TIM & ANA MARIA LOMPERIS on October 22nd, 2018 10:00 pm

What a beautiful tribute, Russell, to your amazingly beautiful and forever kind and caring mother! How blessed we are that God placed us right across the street from your parents on Autumn Drive in 1984, planting the roots of our forever strong and enduring friendship! She was truly beloved and lives forever in our hearts — along with your dad — as one of our lives greatest gifts!
God bless you and your whole family! See you on Wednesday!
Big hugs of love and support, in Christian fellowship, always,
Ana Maria, Tim, Sunshine and family

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