Woody’s Biography Letter
I was raised in Amarillo, and received my bachelor's degree from the University of Oklahoma, in 1942 and went almost immediately into the Army and served until the end of the war plus a few weeks.
I decided I wanted to go to California. I was influenced by my best buddy in the Army who told me all about the gay life in that state. I planned on doing graduate work to become a high school teacher. But as they say in Hollywood, “I was discovered", and to my complete surprise and delight, I was offered a position on the faculty. I went on to get my doctorate, then hung out in their classrooms for 10 years. From there I accepted a position as head of the school of business at Simmons College in Boston where they tolerated me for 26 years.
I was deeply closeted because of my profession but felt guilty that others were out there fighting my battles. It was my firm resolution to do something for the gay community when I retired. I volunteered to give as much as 15 or 20 hours a week to three different gay groups; they all responded, "Wonderful. We’ll call you." None ever did so I realized that ageism had caught up with me.
So I began directing my attention to the elderly. I ran for and won the election to become the head of the Council on Aging for Reading. I also joined a super straight men's retirement group. The latter had a direct bearing on my later founding of Prime Timers. They met once a month for breakfast and would have 250 to 300 men attending. (Wives were highly supportive of the club; it got the men out of the house for a couple of hours). They had special interest groups--photography, stamp collecting, bowling, travel, etc.
Then Sean (my partner) and I went to New York for a weekend as we often did. To fill in a Saturday evening, we consulted our Damron guide and saw a listing for a dance bar for elderly gay men. It said, "Don't sell these old menshort; some of them can really boogy". We went.
I tell this story, because it had a real bearing on the founding of Prime Timers. At the bar we ordered our usual expensive drinks (beer) and before Sean could take a sip, someone asked him to dance. He was so excited that he spilled his beer and before I could get it cleaned up, someone asked me to dance. The bottom line is that we had a great time. A nice couple even invited us to their apartment for a nightcap. I was so naive that I thought a nightcap was a drink!!!
I got back home and began thinking how nice it would be to have something like that in Boston. I wasn't about to go into the bar business at the ripe old age of 67 so I hit on the idea of starting a club for older gays patterned after the men's retirement club.
I decided on a date (August 15, 1987), found a place to meet, advertised the hell out of it and decided if I had as many as 12 attending, I would plan a second meeting. Well, don't you know, it was the hottest, most humid day of the summer and the media was telling all older persons to stay home in air conditioning. I reduced my goal to 10. To my complete delight, 42 men showedup from as far as New Jersey. No words in my limited vocabulary could describe my delight.
We went around the room for each person to introduce himself and, if he wanted, to tell a little about himself and why he was there. Before the session ended, I knew I was onto something hot and my resolve to contribute something to the gay movement was realized. Hallelujah!
I had to find a larger venue because the one we were in held probably 20 persons. Fellows were standing, sitting on the floors and stairs. I gave them as their homework for the next meeting to suggest a name. Fifteen names were suggested. I said, "As temporary chairman, I am using my authority to eliminate from competition three of them. We are not going to be the gray ladies, the old farts or the wrinkle rockers." Prime Timers was selected as it was upbeat and didn't have gay or older in the name.
I wrote an article for Chiron Rising, a now defunct publication. A year later I got a call from a man in New York City who wanted to know if I would help him get a club like that started in that city. They became the second "chapter" of Prime Timers and we were a national organization. Sean and I moved to Austin and, of course, started the third chapter. Word spread and chapters started popping up everywhere. Each time I got a letter to that effect, I'd say to Sean, "I have a new baby".
By 1991, we had enough chapters that Dick Bourbeau asked me if he could plan a "convention" in Provincetown. Almost single-handed, but with some help from the Boston chapter, conventions were born.
By 1993, the club had grown too large for me to run it alone. I set up officers and a governing board. I then stepped down and the reins were turned over to the new board. At the time they made me an honorary board member for life. They didn't know then that I was going to live forever. If they had, they'd probably have given more thought to the matter.
Anyhow, that's the history of Prime Timers and I am thrilled that we now have 65 chapters, two of which are in Australia, one in Sweden, and 6 or 7 in Canada. We have independent members from many other countries of the world. We are delighted that new chapters are part of this growing service to the older gay community.
P.S. This letter was sent in 2006 to Steven Dubois living in NH.