Judge Harold Wood, a Westchester trailblazer, dies

Harold L. Wood, a Westchester native who became the first African-American member of the County Board of Supervisors, died on Thursday, April 14, 2016, in Florida at the age of 96.(Photo: Submitted)

Harold L. Wood, a Westchester trailblazer who became the first African-Americanmember of the County Board of Supervisors and later the first African-American state Supreme Court justice in the county, died last Thursday in Florida at the age of 96.

Remembered by his family as humane, thoughtful and often hilarious, Wood served as an anchor to his children, his daughter, LaVerne Jill Wood, said.

When he was just 4years old he would creative outdoor designs help direct his father out the driveway, and he really has been the director the guiding light of our family ever since, she said.


Born in Ossining during the heart of Americas Jim Crow racial segregation era, Wood forged a path largely unique to African-Americans in Westchester and throughout the country. During World War II, he served inthe Army Air Corpson the Tuskegee creative outdoor designs Airbase in Alabama, where he grew close with many of the members of the historic Tuskegee AirmenAfrican-Americanaviation unit who trained in Tuskegee.

After the war, Wood attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvaniaand received a law degree from Cornell University and a master of lawsfrom New York University Law School. A series of firsts soon followed: the Westchester County Board of Supervisors predecessor of the current county Board of Legislators the MountVernon City Council, Westchester Family Court judge,County Court judge, and 9th District state Supreme Court justice. His election to the Board of Supervisors in 1957 had made him the first green energy African-Americanelected to public office in Westchester. He retired from the Supreme Court in 1995.

Throughout his storied career, Wood, a Republican, earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues. Over 600 people turned out forhis retirement dinner, and state Supreme Court JusticeOrazio Bellantonireferred to Wood as his mentorat Wood’sfuneral onTuesday, Woods daughter said.

I knew hisaccomplishments, but I just remember him as dad, she added. He gave tremendous advice, he always told me take the high road, no matter how complex or aggressive things got.

However impressive Woods career was, LaVerne Jill Wood kept coming back to her father’s irrepressible humor and curiosity.

She spoke of his heartfelt desire neverto face his wife, Thelma,in doubles tennis.

If she was on the plants other team she would never quite let him get to the baseline before she would hit him in the backside, she recalled, laughing.

Thelma Wood died in 2007.

In addition to his daughter, Wood, who lived in Somers before moving to Florida, is survived by his sons, Gregory Lance Woodand Dean Christopher Wood; three grandchildren, Natasha, Michael, and Lauren; and numerous nieces and nephews.

One of Woods greatest pleasures in life, his daughter said, was the privilege to vote for Barack Obama.

Even having made so many inroads as a black man, to see another black man reach the presidency during his lifetime, and above all, to be able to vote for himthat was something he never thought he would see,” she said.

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