WESTSHORE — It was just about a year ago that Dr. Woody York found out he had an inoperable melanoma. Last summer, his family thought his death was imminent.
But a few months after that, he was not only living, but determined. Specifically, he was determined to see his children in Tennessee, despite the concerns of his caregiver that he was too ill to fly.
"I have to touch my children," Dr. York's wife, Jackie, recalled him saying. "It's not enough to talk to them on the phone anymore. I have to touch them."
A few days later, Dr. York and his wife, along with one of his caregivers, were on a plane to Tennessee. The caregiver had never been on an airplane before.
"She was scared to death," Jackie York said of the caregiver. "But she did it for Woody."
Dr. York finally succumbed to cancer Jan. 2. He was 79.
He spent his formative years in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was named after his mother, whose maiden name was Wood.
He was class president every year at Wichita Falls High School, then attended Tulane University. It was there that he met his first wife, Sharon, who was from Tampa.
"I actually knew her," Jackie York said. "She went to my high school, Plant High School."
Dr. York served an internship at Tampa General Hospital and then served as the medical officer on the guided missile cruiser USS Topeka during the Vietnam War. The job challenged his medical skills, and he told a story of performing an emergency appendectomy in seas so rough that the patient had to be tied to the table, and Dr. York had to be tied to the patient, and everyone else on the surgical team had to be tied to something.
It was during his time on the Topeka that his wife, Sharon, learned she had breast cancer. Dr. York flew back to Tampa to be with her and their infant daughter. Sharon York died three years later at age 29.
In the mid 1960s he opened his private urology practice. He also served on the medical staffs of Tampa General, Memorial, St. Joseph's and St. Joseph's Women's hospitals, and served as consulting physician for the James A. Haley and Bay Pines veterans hospitals.
He became chief of staff at Tampa General and a member of its board of directors. He was also on the boards of directors of Town & Country and Memorial hospitals, and was appointed to the Hillsborough County Health Planning Council. With the Hillsborough County Medical Association, Dr. York served on the board of censors, the board of trustees and the board of directors. Members of the Greater Tampa Bay Urological Society elected Dr. York their first president, and he served on the board of directors of the Southeastern Section of the American Urological Association.
He met his second wife, Jackie, on a blind date. They went dancing at the downtown Sheraton Hotel.
"It was love at first kiss," she said. "He kissed me and I liked it and wanted another, so I stuck around and he stuck around and that's how that went."
Jackie Moss adopted Dr. York's daughter Kathleen, and the couple had three children of their own.
Dr. York headed a NASA panel that was looking into using space technology to help cure cancer. As a result of that work, President George H.W. Bush invited the Yorks and their children to be his guest at a shuttle launch, where they would sit with the president and the families of the astronauts. The launch was delayed, though, and the Yorks had to return to Tampa so their kids wouldn't miss school. The next day, they learned that the shuttle Challenger had exploded, and all the astronauts died.
Besides his wife, Dr. York is survived by his children, Kathleen Loring York Mooney, Kelly Carter York Shiver and Woody Todd York, and seven grandchildren.
Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]