By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A benefit dinner will be held at PikeView High School on Tuesday, April 9. Be there, it is for a good cause, for a good friend, a person who has spent his life bringing happiness to others.
The time has come to return the favor.
“We would like as many people as possible to come just to show him how much he is loved and cared about and how much he means to people,” Shelley Weiss said.
Weiss speaks of Tom Woolridge, a fixture at sporting events around Mercer County and southern West Virginia for years, visiting area schools like PikeView, Princeton, Summers County, James Monroe, and Concord University — always with his camera — always ready to snap a photo that becomes an instant memory that will last a lifetime.
“There have so many different times in my life when I have been going down the road and a picture will fall in my lap,” said Weiss, the girls basketball coach at PikeView Middle School, and a close friend of Woolridge. “There are sometimes when he doesn’t even know who the kid is, but it is a good shot he has taken and he will blow it up and just give it to the athlete just so they can have that memory.”
Woolridge, who has been a contributor to the Daily Telegraph sports department for many years, is currently battling cancer, but his fight against such a despicable disease continues on.
“At this point he just wants to be comfortable and enjoy the rest of his life that he has left...,” Weiss said. “Really it is just a time that he can see everybody and everybody can just come and talk to him and just express their love and gratitude for what all he has done for them over the years.”
Woolridge will be the subject of that benefit dinner on April 9 at PikeView, a school where Woolridge has taken so many photos of Panther athletics.
“We are doing the benefit for him, we want to help him out, whatever money is raised goes to him,” Weiss said. “We are going to take donations.
“He and I have talked about a bucket list, things that he would like to do and see and we are going to take donations for that if people would like to contribute.”
For a mere $5 on that second Tuesday in April, from 3:30 to 7 p.m., supporters can enjoy a meal of spaghetti, salad, a roll, dessert and a drink, and bring a little happiness to someone who has been doing the same for others for much of his life.
“We want to get as many people out there as we possibly can,” Weiss said. “We are trying to get flyers out. We really want to show ‘Hony’ how much he is loved and cared about and we want him to understand how much he has meant in the lives of so many people, boys and girls, and how he has affected their lives. We just want him to feel that love.”
Affectionately known by his close friends as ‘Hony’, Woolridge has been around Weiss for much of her life, recording her athletic exploits, first as a player and now for the kids who play for her on the court.
“I know from my personal career, I played basketball at Athens High School and he took so many wonderful pictures of me and all my teammates and gave them to us,” Weiss said. “He has traveled, he and my dad are very close.
“I can probably count on one hand how many games they missed in my college career and in my high school career. He loves to be around sports.”
The walls of her home, and his too, are decorated with many of the photos taken by him over the years.
“He has taken some of the most wonderful pictures that we have hanging on our wall and I have seen them all over the place,” Weiss said. “I was at his house the other day and looking at some of his pictures. He loves photography.”
Woolridge’s work has been featured often in recent years in the Daily Telegraph, from local games to the state basketball tournament in Charleston, and he even hobbled around on crutches the last two years at the Greenbrier Classic, but never let it keep him from his passion.
“Any type of pictures he has always enjoyed taking, but I think his heart belongs to sports, especially basketball,” Weiss said. “I know this was the first year that he hasn’t been able to go to the state tournament in well over 20 years.
“He is always there supporting every team, taking pictures, giving them to the kids for free and never asking for a dime so that kid can have that memory.”
Weiss said that Woolridge has never been picky about a sport to attend and shoot photos, he just wanted to be anywhere his camera could make a memory.
“...just anytime he can be around it he wants to be there,” Weiss said. “He loves kids, he has built a relationship with different schools. There is always that rivalry that we have with schools and he doesn’t see any of that.
“He wants to see everybody succeed and do their best and just watch them succeed and go on and have a college career or, if not, just have a good life.”
Tickets for the April 9 benefit can be purchased at PikeView Middle School by contacting Debbie Carr at (304) 384-3600, or by calling Weiss at (304) 887-4967 or Teresa Farley at (304) 920-6102.
Tickets will also be available at the door, but there is a need to know how much food to prepare.
It’s hard enough to be infected with disease, but now Woolridge has had to leave his camera behind for his frequent trips to Winston-Salem, N.C. and other locations for medical care.
“That is hard on him right now because he can’t really do that, it has been tough for him,” Weiss said. “He is just a great guy, he has always been there for anybody.
“He is such a wonderful friend, not just to me, but to so many people and he has always been there to do whatever anybody asks of him. If he can do something to help somebody and make them happy, that is what he has done for that person.”
Now is the time to do the same for Tom.
“He is a special person, he is always caring, he is always giving,” Weiss said. “Anytime he can help somebody out he will, and he never asks for anything.”
I will ask for him. Be there, and support a friend. He would do the same for you. Just smile for the camera.
— Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at email@example.com