1950 - 2018
Jeffrey Wood was a gifted songwriter, screenwriter, producer and director, who left an indelible creative imprint on all aspects of Seventh-day Adventist media during a time of rapid changes in technology and audience tastes and expectations.
Jeff was born in Bangor, Maine, on October 28, 1950, one of four children of J. Wyland and Esther Catalano Wood. He attended Rio Lindo Academy, where he was a student leader. After graduating in 1969 he attended Pacific Union College, where he was a member of Renaissance Trio, a group that performed folk and light classical music, and formed a male quartet which performed frequently at PUC and in many churches. They recorded an album, Rain, that featured traditional songs along with music composed by Keith Knoche and Wood.
A portent of the contribution he would make in the spiritual life of the church during his lifetime was the song "Side by Side," which he wrote as a sophomore at PUC. The song was inspired by a small group of students who were meeting for a student-initiated prayer meeting. At the end of each meeting, the students, numbering at first only 30, stood in a small circle and sang "Shall We Gather at the River?"
The morning after one of the meetings, with the memory of the group joining hands and singing, Jeff sat down with his guitar and in twenty minutes wrote the song "Side by Side." The next week, Jeff and Clyde Morgan taught it to the students, and that evening they sang the song as they stood in their circle. By the following week there were more than a hundred students attending, and later there were enough students to make a large circle as they held hands and sang the newly-written theme song.
Jeff was asked to join the Heritage Singers in September 1971, to be a member and write and arrange songs for them. Gerry R. Sherman joined in January 1972 and they married the following August. The PUC week of prayer theme song "Side by Side" was first recorded by the Heritage Singers and released in 1971 on their album The King is Coming, as the important final number on the record. It quickly became an iconic song heard in SDA churches and schools around the world. He later wrote the 1985 Pathfinder theme song "We Are His Hands" and a second Pathfinder theme song in 2018, "One Way."
In 1983 he worked jointly with E.J. Irish in producing Secrets of the Kingdom, "a musical adventure for children designed to share the secrets of joy and love," released through Chapel Records. In 1984 and 1985, Jeff and his partner, Bill Hunker, worked with the Voice of Prophecy and director, John Robertson, in writing and creating music for public service spots. The 1984 series on aging included six 30-second radio spots and the song "Just a Little love," written by Jeff. It was the first time a VOP production won an Angel Award. The following year he wrote "Heart of the City" for another series of VOP public radio spots about homeless people and those who help them.
Jeff became a crucial and influential, yet quiet, force in behind-the scenes work in creating and developing SDA media projects at a sophisticated level in the last part of the 20th century and the opening decades of the next century.
As co-creator and producer of Lifestyle Magazine for Faith For Today, he oversaw the development and evolution of that television offering for more than three decades and produced over ninety percent of its programs. He guided the program through changes in hosts and formats, helping it to continue as a timely and vital award-winning source of news about different aspects of life for its viewers.
Beginning in 1991, when the magazine won bronze awards for programming and public affairs, and continuing until 2018, when it received both a gold and platinum award, it was recognized 25 times in fourteen years in the WorldFest-Houston Awards, the oldest and largest international video competition, which in 2018 had 4,500 entries. Nineteen of its 25 awards were at the platinum, gold, or silver level. The magazine was also honored eight times beginning in 1995 with the Telly Award, which honors the finest film and video production. The most recent awards were two in 2017 and one in 2018.
Another project included a group of twelve songs by Keith Knoche and Jeff titled What Would Jesus Do? This1999 mini-musical, designed to create a "fun" experience for children, was performed by the WWJD Kidz and featured Bible-based humor to creatively deal with fear, "clean talking," honoring parents, and other topics.
In 1998 Jeff began working with LLT (Lux Lucet in Tenebris, light shines in darkness) Productions, an organization committed to producing quality religious and historical documentaries, which had been co-founded by James and Patsy Arrabito. Jeff played an important role in three signature releases by LLT including The Seventh Day: Revelations from the Lost Pages of History, a five-part series tracing the story of the Bible Sabbath; Hell and Mr. Fudge, based on the life of Edward Fudge, a small-town preacher who is hired by an eccentric stranger, to investigate the concept of hell as everlasting punishment for sinners; and The Wandering Day, the history of Calendar Reform in the early 20th century.
The Seventh Day series featured the noted actor Hal Holbrook as host. Jeff in his role as director and producer of this first project was regarded by Patsy Arrabito as "an answer to my prayers for a producer when we were ready for production on the Seventh Day Series, and we benefitted from every one of his talents, producer, director, musician, writer, organizer. He had an amazingly creative mind and an innate ability to structure a project well. Jeff had this quiet, kind manner that always brought out the best in talent and crew."
One of his favorite projects was Hell and Mr. Fudge, which captured how Fudge's challenge about hell becomes a life-changing and liberating experience for him and others. Jeff collaborated with his brother James on this endeavor as he did on many projects.
Jeff was an important member of the small team that created Mad About Marriage. Mike Tucker, speaker/director of Faith For Today recently observed: "Because of a creative session that included Jeff, we have television programs, live seminars, small group curriculum, impressive Facebook and Twitter sites, weekly marriage tips via email, and a webpage that boasts more than 400 articles and numerous short videos on marriage."
At the 2008 Society of Adventist Communicators (SAC) convention in Denver, Colorado, Jeff's work in SDA media was recognized when he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award along with Reger Cutting Smith, Jr., who had died earlier that year and was honored posthumously.
Jeff died on October 11, 2018, in Angwin, California at age 67, following six years of declining health due to kidney failure and two bouts with cancer that had been cured. Jeff's brother James observed at the time of his death, "My brother, Jeff Wood, finally won his six-year battle with disease early yesterday afternoon (Thursday, Oct. 11). He slipped out of his enemy's grasp and into peace and rest just seventeen days short of his 68th birthday. Those of us whose lives are intertwined with his are stunned, grief-stricken, heartbroken, and bereft. This is the price of love, the price we are willing to pay for his freedom."
Jeff was survived by his wife, Gerry; son, Jeremy; and daughter, Jill; sister, Jan Wood; brothers, James (Jim) and Jon Wood; five sisters-in-law, four brothers-in-law; nine nieces; and eight nephews.
Sources: Conversation with and email from James Wood, May 23, 2019; "Decisive Action Taken at Recent Constituency Meeting," Pacific Union Recorder, March 27, 1969, 5; Pacific Union Recorder, March 8, 1971, 5; "Rain," Central Union Reaper, August 1, 1972, 3; Email from Gerry Wood, May 24, 2019; California, Marriage Index, 1960-1985, Ancestry.com. Listing of Heritage Singers albums, http://www.heritagesingers.com/Dicography.htm; "Wood writes theme song," Columbia Union Visitor, September 15, 1985, 6; "Good Listening," NPU Gleaner, December 16, 1974, 26; "New Releases," The Lake Union Herald, November 22, 1977, 15; Advertisement, Adventist Review, September 8, 1983, 12; "VOP Receives Award for Public Service Spots," NPU Gleaner, May 6, 1985, 27; "Radio spots feature song, street people," Adventist Review, June 20, 1985, 20; Kimberly Luste Maran, "Side By Side" Adventist Songwriter, Jeff Wood, Passes Away, https://www.nadadventist.org; https://lifestyle.org/about-the-show/awards/; Advertising Supplement, "For Young People," Review, October 1999, 62; LLT Productions, "About LLT Productions," https://www.lltproductions.com/about.html; James Wood email, May 26, 2019; "Adventist communication specialists converge at annual convention," Lake Union Herald, December 2008, 28; James Wood, LLT Productions, https://p.facebook.com, October 12, 2018, 9:25 AM; Email from Gerry Wood; Obituary, Tulocay Cemetery and Crematory, http://www.tulocay.org/notices/Jeffrey-Wood 4/4.