Community remembers ‘Hood’s Winks’ columnist for giveaway for stories
By Bryan Stevens
Whether over coffee at a local cafe or through his column in The Erwin Record, people have latched onto every word of Ralph Hood.
Longtime columnist, author, celebrity lecturer and resident of Erwin, Hood died Wednesday, June 1. He was 81 years old.
The community immediately felt the loss.
“I’ve read several of his columns,” said Ben McNabb, owner of Keesecker’s and Steel Rails, the downtown Erwin cafe that Hood and various friends regularly visited.
McNabb said that eight years ago, when Steel Rails first opened, Hood became a regular customer. Along with a few friends, Hood was a ringleader in what became known as the White Cup Coffee Club.
“They always wanted white cups for their coffee,” McNabb said.
Connie Denney, newspaper columnist and former Vice Mayor of Erwin, was a founding member of the White Cup Coffee Club. She talked about her friendship with Hood.
“He was very open,” Denney said. “Easy to talk to.”
Denney said the origins of the coffee club actually go back to when she and her good friend Dorothy Fortune met at Erwin McDonald’s for coffee.
“Dorothy and I were members of Erwin Presbyterian Church,” she noted.
When Hood moved to Erwin in 2007, he and his wife, Gail, also joined Erwin Presbyterian Church. Shortly after meeting them at church, Hood ran into Denney and Fortune having coffee at McDonald’s. He quickly became the third official member of their band.
They moved their gathering when Steel Rails opened.
Nellie Pate became their fourth regular member when she moved from Spivey Mountain to Erwin once the band had already started visiting Steel Rails.
Denney said occasional members of the group included Ann Howze and the Reverend Stan Webster, who recently retired as pastor of Erwin Presbyterian Church.
McNabb said he found the banter between Hood and his friends hilarious.
“He was a great guy to listen to,” he said. “I enjoyed every minute.”
McNabb said Hood especially enjoys talking to hikers visiting the cafe.
“He got involved with them,” McNabb said. “He wanted to know their stories.”
When McNabb’s daughter, Madeline McNabb Bartlett, got married, Hood gave her a nice wedding gift.
“He didn’t have to do that,” McNabb said. “He was just one of those people. He and his friends felt they were part of the team here.
McNabb said Hood really enjoys being involved and being part of the community.
“He was an unelected community welcome committee,” McNabb said. “He will be greatly missed.”
One of McNabb’s employees, barista Beth Garland, posted about Hood on her Facebook page.
“I’m so sad,” Garland wrote. “Ralph was one of our coffee shop regulars. He was one of a kind and will be missed for sure.
Wife Gail also said her husband had his own regular coffee group that he met with in Huntsville, Alabama before moving to Erwin.
“He was getting together with some of his pilot friends,” Gail recalls.
Hood loved telling stories, keeping in touch with friends and flying. He flew airplanes for over 30 years. He was inducted into the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame in 2003.
He was also a member of Erwin’s Kiwanis club.
Originally from Anderson, South Carolina, Hood was the son of the late Ralph Erskine Sr. and Helen Gillespie Hood. He was a graduate of Clemson University.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Gail Arrington Hood; his daughter Melanie Hood; son Kevin Hood and wife, Shirley Chan; son Brett Hood; grandson Rowan Hood; brother Jim Hood and wife Sue; his sister Martha Standera and her husband Ed; nephew Joe Standera; nephew Grant Hood and wife Ljubica; niece Audra Weiss and husband Ben; great-niece Madelyn Weiss; and great-nephew Braydon Weiss.
An award-winning newspaper columnist before he and his wife moved to Erwin, it wasn’t long before he was writing his humorous columns for The Erwin Record.
Mark A. Stevens, editor and publisher of The Erwin Record from 1997 to 2011, recalls that it only took one meeting to know that Hood’s vocals should be on the Record. Stevens dubbed the column “Hood’s Winks”, and Hood’s column began on July 31, 2007, and has been part of the paper ever since.
“When I look back on my own time at The Erwin Record, one of the things I’m most proud of is having regular contributions from so many great columnists in our community – Margaret Banks, Janice Willis Barnett, Connie Denney, Ben Doty, Ray Knapp and, of course, Ralph Hood. When Ralph agreed to be a regular contributor, I suggested “Hood’s Winks” as the name of his column. I thought that summed up his style perfectly – a wink. “not-so-shy eye and a nod to his outlook on life. And one could play on his own name for the title. In his columns, Ralph could be nostalgic, poignant, thought-provoking, and always funny.”
Stevens likens Hood to some of the industry’s most famous newspaper columnists.
“Ralph Hood was an excellent columnist and a very fine man,” he said. “I have a shelf full of books by great newspaper columnists – Andy Rooney, Erma Bombeck and Lewis Grizzard – and Ralph’s books are there too. Like Andy, Erma and Lewis, Ralph may not be with us anymore , but their words live on in their printed words. I’m so grateful for that.”
Indeed, Hood’s musings are available in several books, including “The Truth & Other Lies: Life from a Different Angle”, “Southern Raised in the Fifties”, and “Ground Clutter: The Book”. The latter is an aviation book. “Southern Raised in the Fifties” is still in print and available for purchase on smashwords.com.
Hood was also a past president of the National Speakers Association. He has traveled to deliver inspirational, humorous and motivational speeches to audiences as diverse as Westinghouse, Maytag, Phillips 66, Monsanto, Vanity Fair, McDonnell Douglas, Blue Cross-Blue Shield and General Dynamics.
His wife Gail traveled frequently with him for speaking engagements and enjoyed seeing the world with him. Some of Hood’s speaking engagements involved trips to Puerto Rico, Canada, Spain, England, Scotland, and the Bahamas.
He was once a guest on Oprah Winfrey’s popular TV show, to which the famous host said, “Ralph, you’re a funny man!”
“Ralph loved people,” Gail said of her husband. “He liked to talk, whether he knew you or not. He liked to tell stories. He was just a very social person.