A&E Columns

This must be the place: Ode to Wild Kathy, ode to never slowing down, never growing old

Kathy Woodward had a special birthday this week. Garret K. Woodward photo Kathy Woodward had a special birthday this week. Garret K. Woodward photo

My best girl (aka: my mother Kathy) turns 75 years young today (Jan. 21). Currently, it’s a cold, frigid Sunday here in the mountains of Western North Carolina, same goes for my hometown of Plattsburgh, New York.

Way up in the wintry depths of the North Country, right where my parents have resided most of their lives. 

It was mid-morning Sunday when my mom called, wondering, as per usual, what I was up to and where I had hung my hat on Saturday night. My girlfriend, Sarah, and I were in Greensboro Friday evening for some shenanigans, onward to Asheville the next night to catch dinner and a concert for Sarah’s early birthday celebration, seeing as her special day (Jan. 22) falls on a Monday.

Beyond the basic nature of catching up, the “this, that and the other” of the past week or so, I told my mom how bummed we were not being able to head to the North Country for her birthday. But, we were looking forward to seeing her and my father when they roll on down below the Mason-Dixon Line to Saint Augustine, Florida, in March for their yearly spring jaunt to thaw out after another frozen winter.

And that’s been kind of the routine since I left the north for Western North Carolina to start work at this publication in August 2012. I see my folks a few times a year, whether it be down in Florida in the spring, when they pass through Waynesville either en route to Florida or during the fall foliage in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I don’t get up to the North Country as much as I’d like, either. I try to make it up for either Thanksgiving or Christmas, but it’s hit or miss on that front. Normally, or at least the last few years since the 2020 shutdown, I’ve found myself jumping in the pickup truck and chipping away at the 16- to 18-hour trek along I-40/26/81/88/87 for my niece’s birthday in June.

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No matter, for I aim my best to keep an open channel of communication with my parents, especially my mom. We talk on the phone most days, even if I’m bouncing from coast-to-coast on assignments. Mostly because she harbors the same zest and urge for unknown adventure and happenstance interaction as I do and wants to hear all about it.

Truth be told, I get that restless sense of freedom of the open road from her. And neither one of us has ever met a stranger. I can’t tell you how many times my mom will simply just start talking to someone out of nowhere — in line at the grocery store or waiting at the DMV — just to make a connection with another human being for the mere joy of, perhaps, making a friend (which will inevitably happen).

My mother and I are “cut from the same cloth” as she’s stated to me countless times over the decades. And I count myself among the truly lucky ones to call their mother one of their best friends, beyond all the undying love and support she’s shown me since the first moment I emerged into this whirlwind called life.

To those who’ve yet to meet and befriend my mom, here’s the lowdown on her life (thus far). Born and raised in Rouses Point, New York, Kathy Kavanaugh grew up in a “Leave It To Beaver” household (as she puts it), worked hard at school and was obsessed with music, with whatever hit was echoing from the radio at any given time (she’s eternally a rock-n-soul freak, cue the likes of Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears and Sly & The Family Stone).

She went to school at Adirondack Community College, then got her teaching degrees at SUNY Plattsburgh. This all parlayed into a 34-year career as a special education teacher at Northeastern Clinton Central School. Upon retirement, she spent another decade as a social worker in the Clinton County, New York, system, aiding families in  need through a bevy of trials and tribulations. 

And all the while, she’s been a wife of almost 52 years to my father, Frank Woodward, a mother to my little sister, Kate, and myself and a grandmother to three (two nieces and a nephew). A loyal friend and a person you could call in your time of need morning, noon or night. She’s always answered the call, whether literally or figuratively, especially for her haphazard son and his ramblings amid the realm of the written word, in pursuit of dreams held high.

Why the name “Wild Kathy”? To preface, there are innumerable stories my mom and I will cherish and rehash over a glass of wine at Bosu’s or The Classic Wineseller. I think of our trips together. The Pacific Northwest (as I scouted out a place to possibly live after college). Hawaii (to visit my sister). Grand Teton Mountains (when I was a rookie reporter for the Teton Valley News). Ireland (while I was on semester abroad).

But, when all is said and done, our excursion to New Orleans, Louisiana, will be held closest to my heart of hearts. Back then, I was in college in Connecticut and rarely, if ever, home. My mom suggested we take a trip together to catchup and rekindle our friendship. I asked what place she wanted to visit the most. She said NOLA. Next thing you know, we’re on a plane to The Big Easy.

Anyhow, one afternoon, several drinks in, her and I roll into the now-defunct Old Opera House on Bourbon Street. Beverages in-hand as renowned NOLA accordion player/singer Dwayne Dopsie poured through a sweat-filled set. Kathy dancing away any care in the world in front of the stage, all while encouraging others to get up and follow suit, to live their best lives in real time.

When his set ended, Dwayne came over to our table. This NOLA musical legend wanted to thank my mom for setting the tone of fun during his set. “What’s your name?” he asked her. “Kathy,” she said. “Nah, you ‘Wild Kathy,’” he shot back. He then signed a promotional photo of himself for her with “To Wild Kathy ….” on it. It hung on my parents’ fridge for years. The name stuck, too.

Wild Kathy. A beacon of light and love in this universe. She’s never turned down an opportunity to dance, to listen to music and enjoy a margarita while doing so. A beloved daughter, sister, wife, mother and grandmother. She’s the bee’s knees. She remains one of my biggest inspirations for pursuing a life well-lived. Happy birthday.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

Leave a comment


  • What an amazing tribute to your beautiful mom!
    You are both cut from the same cloth it wouldn’t take long even for a stranger to see that??

    posted by Christine

    Monday, 01/29/2024

  • Awesome story, I bet she is fun to run with.

    posted by Dena

    Monday, 01/29/2024

  • Wowzer. ..thanks my boy. .quite the ride!!!!

    posted by Kathy Woodward

    Thursday, 01/25/2024

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