Charles Woods, former Nevada political figure, dead at 83
DOTHAN, Ala. – Charles Woods, who overcame the scars of a fiery World War II plane crash to become a wealthy Nevada media and real estate owner and perennial political candidate, has died at age 83.
Woods died Sunday at Extendicare, a health and rehabilitation center in Dothan, according to WTVY, the television station he owned for 40 years. Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Calvary Baptist Church in Dothan.
Other details were not immediately available.
Woods’ face and hands were disfigured by burns in the crash of the B-17 he was piloting in 1944. But after the war he started a house-building business and in 1955 launched Dothan’s first TV station, the beginning of a media chain and other business ventures that made him wealthy.
“I consider myself an ordinary man who has been extraordinarily blessed by God,” he told The Associated Press four years ago.
His holdings were reduced to a radio station and an office building when he ran into financial problems in the early 1990s. But he continued his unsuccessful quest for political office – including runs for president, the U.S. Senate and House as well as statehouse posts – with a final losing bid for a Congressional seat in Alabama’s 2nd District in 2002.
Woods ran both as a Democrat and a Republican, in both Alabama and Nevada, where he lived at times.
“I want to spend the rest of my life further answering God’s call to me,” he told the AP in a 1996 interview. “I want to make a difference for the rest of my life.”
According to Woods, he was born in a shack in a coal mining community called Toadvine near Birmingham in 1921 and was given to an orphanage by his mother after his father ran off. Raised by a farm family in Headland, he became a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force and then U.S. forces.
When his plane crashed on takeoff in northeast India and became an inferno of exploding fuel, he was burned over 70 percent of his body and spent the next five years in military hospitals, undergoing an estimated 100 operations.
Once a dashing airman, Woods was extensively disfigured and scarred. But he said later in life that it changed him for the better. “I was self-centered and selfish,” he said. “Now I’m a giver instead of a taker.”
Chairman of the state prison board in the 1960s, he ran for governor in 1966 and 1970, the first of numerous unsuccessful bids for elective office. One of his strongest showings was in 1974, when he led the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor but lost in a runoff to Jere Beasley.
While at a veterans hospital in Las Vegas for treatment in 1992, he ran both for president and the U.S. Senate. The Senate campaign led to a federal judge imposing a $50,000 fine for improper campaign contributions.
Political science professor emeritus William Stewart of the University of Alabama described Woods as a populist who gained sympathy from some voters because of his burn injuries.
“That was part of the appeal he originally had,” Stewart said Monday. He said as Woods got older he “just kept running to have his name on the ballot.”
“He had conquered the world in terms of business that he wanted. It was just a hobby of his to run for office. He pursued it relentlessly,” Stewart said.
Woods filed for personal bankruptcy during divorce proceedings in the 1990s but was eventually discharged from bankruptcy court after selling land and other possessions to settle his debts.