By Elizabeth Bergstone
Anyone meeting Martha Wood for the first time would probably notice that she’s petite, with silver hair cut in a youthful pixie style, and a pair of unflinching clear blue eyes. Few people would guess that Wood once held one of the most influential positions in Winston-Salem: for eight years she was the City’s first, and so far only.
Born in Fayetteville, N.C., Wood graduated from Wake Forest University, where she first became interested in politics. In fact, it was her college debate coach, Franklin Shirley, who urged her to run for City Council, where she served for eight years, before successfully running for Mayor in 1989.
“Running for any office is hard work,” Wood declares emphatically. “You have to have tenacity, courage, and what my tenth-grade Latin teacher called ‘moral stamina!’
“When I was elected, the City was at a crossroads,” Wood remembers. “R. J. Reynolds had moved their headquarters to Atlanta and several other large companies had also relocated. We had to decide what kind of town Winston-Salem was going to be. We knew that things would change, but I wanted to ensure that those changes benefited every member of the community, not just a select few.”
Wood’s slogan in her stump speeches was “There’s room at the table for everyone.” She worked to achieve broader participation in decision-making; as a result people from different walks of life, a wider range of ages (even some high school students), and different ethnic backgrounds were brought into the decision-making process and appointed to various committees and City boards.
Along with the hard work and responsibility of office, there were undoubtedly many rewards. Meeting famous and important people, hosting foreign dignitaries, and breakfasting at the White House were some of the highlights of the job. One meeting that she cherishes was a friendly conversation she had with President Bill Clinton. “When he was talking to you, it was as if nothing else was on his mind. He’s a people person. He’s also a brilliant politician.”
Although Wood has always called North Carolina home, she has had the opportunity to travel extensively. She numbers off the many places she and her husband, Frank, visited while celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary: Spain, South Africa, Norway, Germany, Prague and India, where she enjoyed visiting the home of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She was also happy to return to England, where she and Frank had lived for some months while he taught at the Liverpool Hope University.
“Travelling to many countries gave me a wider perspective on the world,” she says. “It made me realize how fortunate we are in America. We are the benchmark, not only for our justice system, but also for the many social amenities we take for granted, like living accommodations. I was amazed at the degree of poverty that exists in the world. Even in Liverpool we learned to live more modestly – like the ‘Liverpudlians,’” she adds with a laugh.
Elizabeth Bergstone is the former editor of the Downtown Winston-Salem newspaper. She has written for numerous local publications including the Winston-Salem Journal. Currently she works as a voiceover actor and an audio book narrator.
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