Thrived in spite of segregation: Matthew Wood, Sr., Oak Hill's first black policeman, has died at age 90

Remembered as long-time church deacon, mason & forefather of city's incorporation

"The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death." -- Isaiah 57:1-2
 
Oak Hill, Florida's first African-American cop, Matthew Wood, Sr, has died at age 90 / Headline Surfer®Photos for Headline Surfer® /
Funeral services will be held Saturday for Matthew Wood, Sr., a longtime mason credited with helping to build the quaint Oak Hill City Hall, 234 US 1.
 

OAK HILL, Fla. -- Matthew Wood, Sr, a forefather of the city's incorporation and its first black policeman for 20 years, died Thursday.

He was 90 years old.

Wood was a long-time mason by trade, who, with his wife, Toreatha, raised their eight children in Volusia County's southern-most rural outpost, amid the backdrop of scenic Mosquito Lagoon with its gentle breezes off the water to temper the hot Florida sun.

In spite of the horrors of segregation and the ugliness of the Ku Klux Klan, which reared its ugly head from Jacksonville down into Maytown and Brevard County, Wood thrived in part by turning to his Christian faith as a parishioner and eldest deacon of St. Martha Missionary Baptist Church.

News of Woods' passing Friday after a sudden illness was met with sadness at Oak Hill City Hall by Mayor Douglas Gibson, a retired Florida state trooper, who laundry-listed his numerous achievements, though none more resonating to the mayor, than Wood's commitment to law and order.

In fact, Matthew Wood, Sr., who died three months shy of turning 91, outlasted the city's small police force, which was sacked in 2011, amid scandal and chaos led by a police chief who was a former cocaine addict. 

Gibson, elected mayor in 2012, had been appointed as a commissioner just a few months before the cop shop was shuttered in favor of coverage from the Volusia County Sheriff's Office. "Matthew Wood was Oak Hill's first black policeman and he did it for 20 years," said Gibson, himself 71, who was amazed at how full a life Wood lived, raising a large family. "What a milestone for our city."

Oak Hill Mayor Douglas Gibson / Headline Surfer®Oak Hill Mayor Douglas Gibson, who is 71, and a retired state trooper, marvelled how Matthew Brown, Sr., who died Thursday at the age of 90, actually outlived the small police force that grew from two back in his heyday to to seven before it was disbanded in 2011, bcause of ongoing corruption and scandal, ld by a police chief who was a was a oneIn fact, Matthew Wood, Sr., who died three months shy of turning 91, outlasted the city's small police force, which was sacked in 2011, amid scandal and chaos led by a police chief who was a former cocaine addict.

That wasn't lost on Douglas Gibson, elected mayor in 2012, had been appointed as a commissioner just a few months before the cop shop was shuttered in favor of coverage from the Volusia County Sheriff's Office. 

"Matthew Wood was Oak Hill's first black policeman and he did it for 20 years," said Gibson, himself 71, who was amazed at how full a life Wood lived, raising a large family. "What a milestone for our city."

Julie Wood, the sixth of his eight children, remembered her father as tough, but fair in his treatment of his black brethren who ran afoul of the law.

"There were only two policemen when he started -- him and Chief Bev Wyatt," Wood, 57, recalled in an exclusive interview with Headline Surfer®, hours after her father's passing. "They ruled with (an) iron hand. (They) kept crime under control and were good, honest lawmen. No one really gave them problems and they weren't afraid of no one." 

http://headlinesurfer.com/content/414222-thrived-spite-segregation-matth... reflected on her father's work ethic and commitment to his family, community and church.

"Daddy ran his masonry company, building houses all up and down the East Coast," she told Headline Surfer®, her voice cracking, emotions still very raw. "He worked hard to take care of his family. He had everyone's respect and he gave respect. He loved what was right. That was how he lived his life and raised his children."

Though somewhat painful to bring up, Julie Wood, an educated woman with two masters degrees, who has worked on grants for the city, recalled tough times for the family as a whole during segregation herself a witness to cross burnings when she was a little girl, even as her father was a cop.

Choking back tears in mourning his passing, Julie Wood added: "We were always scared, but daddy was strong. He really cared about everyone in Oak Hill."

Julie Wood , daughter of Matthew Wood, Sr, the first black policeman in Oak Hill, Fl, died Thursday at age 90 / Headline Surfer®Though somewhat painful to bring up, Julie Wood, an educated woman with two masters degrees, who has worked on grants for the city, recalled tough times for the family as a whole during segregation herself a witness to cross burnings when she was a little girl, even as her father was a cop. 

Choking back tears in mourning his passing, Julie Wood added: "We were always scared, but daddy was strong. He really cared about everyone in Oak Hill."

The Obituary: Matthew Wood, Sr.
March 9, 1924 - Jan. 8, 2015
Matthew Wood, Sr., dead at age 90, Oak Hill, Fla. / Headline Surfer®Matthew Wood, Sr., 90, of Oak Hill, departed from this life on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015 at Bert Fish Medical Center, New Smyrna Beach. The second child to the late, Jim Wood, Sr. and Mildred Hood Wood; he was born in Oconee, Ga., on March 9, 1924.
Mr. Matthew Wood attended school in Washington County, Ga. and moved to Florida at the age of 18. He was a 71-year member of St. Martha Missionary Baptist Church and served as deacon for 60 years. He was a general contractor of Matthew Wood Masonry for 29 years, and served as an Oak Hill police officer for 20 years. He was an active Masons member of J.C. Reese Prince Hall Masonic Lodge No. 429 of Mims.
Mr. Wood enjoyed all sports and loved being in the company of his wife, children, grandchildren, family, and friends.  
He leaves to mourn his loving wife of 69 years, Toreatha Wood; five sons, Willie (Harriet) Wood of Oak Hill, Jimmie (Michelle) Wood of Augusta, Ga., Ronnie Wood of Port St. John, Kenneth (Annette) Wood of Daytona Beach, and Steven (Sherry) Wood of Orlando; two daughters, Julie Wood of Ormond Beach and Evelyn (Darry) Evans of Oak Hill; two grandsons raised as sons, Dwayne (Jennifer) Wood of Edgewater and Derryan (Tiffany)Wood of Casselberry, 32 grandchildren; 70 great-grandchildren; five great-great-grandchildren; brothers-in-law, Emzy Merrick, Jr. of New Smyrna Beach, James (Pearline) Merrick, John (Alzie) Merrick of Oak Hill, and Samuel Merrick of Oak Hill; sister-in-law, Rosa Wood of New Smyrna Beach; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins,and sorrowing friends.
Mr. Wood is preceded in death by his parents, Jim Wood, Sr. And Mildred Hood Wood; son, Matthew Wood, Jr.; five brothers, Jim Wood, Jr., Green Wood, Isadore Wood and Emorl Wood; James Johnson; and two sisters, Lola Mae Bivins and Arleatha Merrick.
Funeral services for Mr Wood will be 11 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, at the Apostolic Faith Temple, 300 Milford Place, New Smyrna Beach, FL, with Bishop Robert B. Thomas as pastor. Burial will follow at Sea Pines Memorial Gardens, Edgewater. Family will receive friends from 5-8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 16, at St. Martha Missionary Baptist Church, 270 Flamingo Road. Oak Hill, FL, with the Rev. David Merrick pastor; also, one hour prior to the service on Saturday.
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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.