For more than 25 years, Robert Woods battled Whites Creek.
The retired truck driver and school zone crossing guard known as Officer Friendly devoted his time to working with city officials and others in an attempt to make the creek safer for those along West Hamilton Road. He invited political candidates to tour the creek and pressed them for their support of proposed changes. On Sunday, his enemy took his life.
Woods, 74, died after water swept him away near his West Hamilton Road home in Bordeaux after a rescue attempt failed. His body was discovered a few blocks away the next day.
But his close friend, Robert Turney, 57, vows to continue Woods’ fight so that Woods will be the last life claimed by Whites Creek.
“The ironic thing is, he fought that creek tooth and nail for 25 or 30 years, trying to get them to widen it, deepen it or do something,” Turney said. “He was on the phone once with the storm water committee and they kept running him around and running him around, giving him this excuse or that excuse why they couldn’t do nothing. They said if you put in a bulldozer, it would kill some fish or something. The ironic thing is the thing he fought ended up killing him. It’s like a bad dream to me.”
On Saturday, Turney arrived at Woods’ house around 5 p.m. “It was raining and I knew what the creek usually does and it was doing it,” said Turney, a disabled railroad employee. “We sat on his patio until the water got above our shoes. At that time, we went into the house and sat there and watched the water rise as usual. It just kept raining and raining and raining.”
He said Woods remained uneasy during the rain, despite Turney’s reassurances that he had flood and homeowner’s insurance. “Once you go through it as many times as he’s been through it,” Turney said of the divorced father. “It usually stopped 15 feet from the back of the house. This time it came like a roaring ocean.”
While in his den around 11 p.m., the two Marines discussed the creek just to pass the time. “I said, ‘Robert, if that water gets to that second step, I’m going to help you fight this battle.’ I made that statement, and I didn’t know that I would never see him again, so I have no choice but to fight this creek, to pick up the battle he had with the creek. I committed myself and didn’t have any idea what I was doing, but it’s on now,” said Turney, who left Woods’ home around 2 a.m. Sunday — when the water was in the house but it had stopped raining — with the belief that Woods would be able to leave the home without any problems.
“I’m going to worry somebody until they get something done about this creek, because if they do not fix the creek, it’s going to do the same thing again. The only thing it’s got to do is start raining.
“I committed myself about 11 Saturday night to fight this creek. I thought he would be with me. I’ve got to fight; I don’t know what it’s going to take.”
Turney won’t be alone in his fight: Metro Councilman-At-Large Jerry Maynard is also committed to Woods’ cause.
“The children told me that for over 25 years Mr. Woods had been talking about storm water issues and the creek, about getting it cleaned out," Maynard said. “There was major debris and you have water that comes all the way from Joelton down Whites Creek. Then you’ve got where Whites Creek makes a right or a bend, and you’ve got the bridge and other things that are there. They felt that flooding had been occurring, not to this devastation, because some of the areas of Whites Creek hadn’t been cleaned out.
“I told Mr. Woods’ daughter that he may have lost his life, but in losing his life, he may have helped the community. We’re not going to let his passing go in vain. We’re going to fight — I’m going to work with Councilman Lonnell Matthews — and we’re going to make sure that we deal with whatever issues need to be dealt with, whether it’s storm water or infrastructure. We’re going to work with the administration to make sure that Whites Creek is taken care of.”