Dec. 29, 1924 – March 14, 2018
Robert J. Wood, an Elks Club leader on the local and state level who was honored for his volunteer work, died last Wednesday in his Town of Tonawanda home after a brief illness. He was 93.
Orphaned at the age of 1 in New York City, he grew up in foster homes and under care of the Gould Foundation, a philanthropic organization created to protect homeless children. As a Boy Scout guide at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, he got to shake hands four times with President Franklin Roosevelt.
While working as a shoeshine boy at Carnegie Hall, he was recruited by jazz trumpeter Harry James to be his assistant. As a reward for his good service, James invited him to pick a pair of cufflinks from his collection. He chose a set of gold G-clefs, which he kept for the rest of his life.
Mr. Wood went on to serve as a band boy with leading bands of the era, touring with Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, who gave him drum lessons.
He told a story about the day he was practicing in Krupa’s studio when drug agents came looking for marijuana. After they left without finding anything, Krupa asked Mr. Wood to stop playing and bring him the drumsticks, which were made of aluminum. He said Krupa unscrewed the end caps of the drumsticks and out came some marijuana joints.
Mr. Wood attempted to enlist in the military near the end of World War II, but was rejected because of a perforated eardrum he suffered in a childhood fireworks accident.
“It was one of his greatest regrets, not being in uniform,” his daughter, Deborah L. Chambers, said.
When he stopped touring with bands, he became a sales representative for record companies, working for Coral, Decca, Columbia and other labels. Throughout the late 1940s and most of the 1950s, he chauffeured artists such as Teresa Brewer, Lawrence Welk and Johnnie Ray to radio stations from Manhattan to Buffalo.
He lived in Rochester before moving to Buffalo in the 1950s and went on to work in a variety of sales positions locally. For a time, he sold caskets for the S.H. Hill Co.
He was a member of the Lions Club of Kenmore and North Tonawanda Lodge 860, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. In the Elks, he became an Exalted Ruler and state vice president, and was awarded life membership.
Mr. Wood began 50 years of volunteer work with the Elks and their fundraising efforts for cerebral palsy treatment and research. As an Elks leader, he appeared on the annual Jerry Lewis telethon.
He taught classes for the American Red Cross and worked with Literacy Volunteers of America. As an RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) volunteer working with the Erie County Department of Senior Services, for 18 years he provided insurance information for seniors at the Town of Tonawanda Senior Center during the annual Medicare open enrollment period.
He was honored for his volunteer efforts by the State Assembly and President George W. Bush.
“That was his hobby, helping other people,” his daughter said.
There are no other survivors. He was predeceased by two wives, the former Lucille Dube, who died in 1990, and the former Marion Bissell, who died in 2011.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. Monday in D. Lawrence Ginnane Funeral Home, 3215 Delaware Ave.,