Edwin “Bob” Newhall Woods


Edwin “Bob” Newhall Woods died at home in Santa Maria, California, on March 1, 2011.

Born in San Francisco, October 4, 1917, Bob was a lifelong visitor to Martha’s Vineyard. At the age of eight months he made his first trip east, staying with his family at the home of his maternal grandmother, Virginia Whiting Newhall of West Tisbury and San Francisco.

Bob’s youth on the Island was spent with the extended Whiting family, and he often recounted stories of ice boating, haying at Quenames, and, when there was enough snow, sliding down the main road into Vineyard Haven, which was closed for just that purpose.

In the late ’20’s the family purchased a home off of North Road. The winter that he attended grammar school in West Tisbury, Bob recalled studying in the kitchen by kerosene light, next to the wood-burning stove — the warmest room in the house. At bedtime, everyone took stones from the warming oven upstairs to place between the sheets.

Bob graduated from Stanford University in 1938 and served in the Navy during World War II.

A very capable equestrian from his youth, he began his working career as a cowboy in California on a ranch owned by the Newhall Land and Farming Company. Later, as ranch superintendent, he oversaw the development of crops from beans, grain, and sugar beets to plantings of lemons and avocados. In the 1960s he was instrumental in planting 500 acres of wine grapes, one of the pioneers of modern vineyards in northern Santa Barbara County.

In his retirement, he continued to raise grapes for wine production on a small property at his home and maintained a herd of Angus cattle that he had established in the ’50s.

Even as a child Bob was interested in flying. One of his early airplane models was made of wood with typewriter eraser wheels. He purchased his first plane in 1940 and enjoyed piloting or riding as a passenger with his son at the controls through the rest of his life.

In his heart, the Island was always Bob’s home. In 1982 to honor his mother’s intent, he donated Brandy Brow, purchased by her in 1928 where she erected a monument to the memory of her mother, Virginia Whiting Newhall, to the town of West Tisbury, as an open and green space in perpetuity.

In 1991 a conservation restriction was placed on the Panhandle property and Mr. Woods then sold it far below market value to the Agricultural Society, of which his great grandfather, Henry L. Whiting was a founder. It is the site of the new Ag Hall and barns where the fair is held each August.

At the same time, a conservation restriction was placed on the adjacent property to assure that the land and fauna would remain whole and undisturbed. The Frances Newhall Woods Nature and Wildlife Preserve is under the stewardship of the Nature Conservancy, and is named for his mother, who valued the serenity and strength of the natural world that surrounded her home on North Road.

Bob and his wife, Jeanne, continued to drive across the country twice a year to their home in West Tisbury, well into Bob’s late ’80s. His last trip was made in 2009, and, as always, he was most content on the porch of his home overlooking the pond, watching the ever-changing scene in Vineyard light.

Mr. Woods is survived by his wife of 65 years, Jeanne, and their children, Prudence Noon and her husband, John, of Martinez, Calif., Francine Woods and her children, Margaret and Henry Bell, of Long Beach, Calif., and Edwin N. Woods Jr. and his wife, Caroline, of Santa Maria, Calif., and Roxie, the most recent of a lifetime of well-traveled canine companions — all of whom share his love of the Island.

Contributions in his memory may be made to the West Tisbury Congregational Church, the Vineyard Conservation Society, the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society or to a charity of choice.