| By Rita Howell
A gleaming white 2005 GMC pickup sits in the neatly kept yard of James Woodard, who celebrated his 98th birthday December 1. It’s his truck.
The lifelong Bynum community resident went with his granddaughter Mary Egerson to Heafner Motors a few months back. His old pickup, which he’d bought new in 1970, was beginning to have a few knocks and pings.
Salesman Larry Hinton remembers well his oldest customer.
"We went out on the lot and he picked out what he wanted," Hinton said. "It was the first automatic he ever owned."
The tractors and trucks Woodard had driven previously in his life had all been stick shifts.
"I had to teach him how to drive an automatic," his granddaughter said, laughing at the irony.
A tall, trim, courtly man, Woodard looks at the world through clear eyes that don’t require eyeglasses, except when he’s reading the newspaper, he said.
He’s a man who has worked hard as a farmer all his life.
"I raised cotton, corn, soybeans, sorghum, peanuts, sweet potatoes, watermelon, okra, peas," he said, "but I ain’t doing all that now. I retired at 97."
Still, he rises at 6 each morning and cooks his own breakfast. He does everything for himself, except washing clothes. Granddaughter Mary, who lives just down the hill, takes care of that for him.
"He could do it, but he doesn’t have a washing machine."
Besides cooking his own meals, he keeps house and even sews on his buttons.
"I can see to thread a needle without glasses," he said.
Woodard has had to do a lot for himself since his wife Loise died 17 years ago.
But then he’s always been a self-reliant person, according to his neighbor Lamar Barnett, whose land joins Woodard’s.
"He’s an independent character," Barnett said. "He’s plain spoken. You can depend on his word. He’s a person of honesty and integrity."
"I’ve always tried to be a neighbor and a citizen," Woodard said.
His modest, well-kept house sits on a hill overlooking Highway 315 near its intersection with Pope-Water Valley Road.
At that intersection sits New Providence Church, built there 40 years ago on land donated by Woodard and his brother Jessie, 95.
Woodard serves as a deacon, usher and church treasurer. He has served in those positions since the church was built.
From his hilltop vantage in southeastern Panola County, Woodard has seen many changes. He’s seen progress transform dirt paths to paved roads, and remembers when those early roads were graded by a mule-drawn machine.
He recalls when the doctor would come from Orwood in a buggy to treat members of his family – his father Dennis and his mother Julie and seven siblings – when he was growing up.
"He’d charge $2.50 and that included the medicine," he said. "If you didn’t have the money to pay him, he’d take eggs or a chicken. Whatever you had."
"You didn’t have as much violence then," he continued. "People didn’t have to lock their doors."
Living off the land had other benefits, he believes.
"We grew what we ate and ate what we grew," he said. "I think people were healthier then."
He’s still a healthy man.
"I’m not on any medications," he said.
His daughters Alma and Fannie are both deceased, but he counted up 34 descendants, including nine grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and eight great-great-grandchildren.
The secret to his longevity?
"That’s God that done that, not me."