TAMPA — Donald "Woody" Woodard knew his beard longer than he knew his wife.
During the more than 30 years they were together, Patti Woodard never saw her husband's chin. The beard, at its longest, extended below his chest.
It started growing when he was about 15 years old, said his childhood friend Mike Beasley. The year was 1972.
Since then, no one can recall a time when the reddish-blond hair, which would later in life become streaked with gray, didn't dominate Mr. Woodard's face.
Mr. Woodard, whose beard, his wife says, was nicer than those of ZZ Top's frontmen, died at home on Feb. 14 from cancer. He was 53.
Patti Woodard was the only person allowed to trim it. She carefully cut 6 or so inches off the ends about every three months, to get rid of the straggly hairs.
"He would watch me in that mirror like a hawk," she said. "I would have to show him exactly how much I was going to cut and then we would start just a little bit lower, 'just in case you make a mistake,' he would say."
Born in Arizona, Mr. Woodard moved to Tampa in 1960 when his father was transferred to MacDill Air Force Base.
Mr. Woodard met his future wife in the late 1970s and became an instant father to her 1-year-old daughter, Deanna Dick.
"I just loved his beard, I pegged him when I saw him and I just knew he was the one," his wife said about the day they met.
His 19-year-old daughter, Olivia Woodard, said the beard was just part of who her father was.
"He had the hat, the glasses, the T-shirt and the beard. That was him," she said.
Underneath all the hair was a generous man, said Mr. Woodard's neighbor, Renee Walker.
During the more than 10 years that Walker lived beside Mr. Woodard, he helped her trim trees, mow the lawn, install new bathroom fixtures and more.
After his death, Walker wrote a poem labeling his unusual neighborliness as "radical kindness."
Mr. Woodard was a jack of all trades, his wife said, but he made a living working as a pipe layer in the construction industry. There were opportunities to expand into welding and other areas, but sometimes his beard would get in the way.
"Some new offers meant he would have to cut his beard for work, and he always declined," his wife said. "He would rather lose his job than cut his beard."
But Mr. Woodard didn't lose his job, he worked for American Construction Services of Tampa for more than 20 years.
"You couldn't get a better, more dependable employee," said Bobby Glover, a co-owner of the company.
After Mr. Woodard's death, his wife cut off a lock of his hair to keep. But she didn't dare touch his beard.
"It just wouldn't have been right," she said. "I trimmed it when it needed trimming, and that was it."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or email@example.com.