For students, athletes and friends from Breathitt High School during the late 50s to mid 60s, there was only one Elizabeth T. Woods.
Those who fondly remember Mrs. Woods always called her “Libby.”
Elizabeth Taylor “Libby” Woods – the wife of the late, iconic Breathitt High head basketball coach Fairce O. Woods for 59 years – passed away last Tuesday, February 12 at the Hospice Care Center in Maysville. She was 89 years of age at the time of her passing.
It was during the glory years of Bobcat Basketball that Libby would become a beloved figure in her own way, which began when she and Fairce moved to Jackson to work in education. Libby became a secretary at Breathitt High School, while her husband would ultimately become basketball coach at BHS.
During that period, they lived in a house not far from Court Street, behind the old Breathitt County Schools bus garage. A sidewalk connected the Woods’ home to the bus garage, high school and the old Little Red Elementary School on one end, while the sidewalk also led uphill to an alley between the old Cut-Rate Grocery Store (later Gambill and Strong Kentucky Food Store) and the original White Flash Restaurant.
As it turned out, being close to downtown Jackson would be a game changer for the boys who played for the Bobcats during that immortal era. Before the birth of her daughter Sandra (now Sandra Woods Ashley), Libby’s role as a mother figure to many of Breathitt High’s basketball teams was a pivotal one. With a full slate of Saturday night home games - plus several long away games over mostly curvy roads during the basketball season in those years - the Woods’ house would become the “Cats’ Den” for the team, and a home away from home for the players.
Her obituary from Boone-Nickell Funeral Home in Flemingsburg noted, “She loved to cook for her ‘boys.’”
The team, in turn, loved her in appreciation. It was a team during the Woods’ era that had many marquee players. Among the best-remembered from that era – when Breathitt High had a regular presence in the Kentucky High School State Basketball Tournament – included Big Earl Stevens, Henry B. Combs and Doug Allen, plus brothers Granville Deaton and Bobby Deaton. Another brother, J. P. Deaton, was Fairce’s longtime assistant coach, while Sam Herald was the longtime scorekeeper. Both Sam and his wife, Grace Herald, were extremely close friends of Fairce and Libby Woods for years.
Libby’s husband had many memorable games during his coaching era at BHS. That included a notable one in 1961 with the original Dunbar High School in Lexington – a groundbreaking contest that helped to break down racial barriers – and Coach Woods’ last State Tournament Team in 1967, made up of starting five players – Larry Noble, the late B. G. Lovins, Goley Salyers, the late Freddie Combs, and Eugene Cundiff. Those Bobcats would ride up the ladder at Freedom Hall in Louisville that March spring, until they lost on a Saturday morning semifinal session to a Western Kentucky squad from Earlington High School, in Hopkins County. The Earlington Yellowjackets would go on to win the State Championship that Saturday night.
The spring of 1967 would also be the last for Woods’ family in Jackson, as they moved to Stanton, with Fairce taking the head coaching position at Powell County High School in the fall of that year.
Libby believed in the value of a good education, and the lure of a good library book. After she graduated from Fleming County High School, she attended what was then Kentucky Wesleyan College and received her Master’s degree from Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond. While living in Stanton, Libby received her teaching degree in Library Science at EKU. After teaching the first grade, the Woods’ family moved back to Flemingsburg. In time, Libby became a librarian at Fox Valley, Hillsboro and Ewing Elementary Schools.
Her obituary pointed out, “Her love for books and her love of children made a beautiful career.”
In 1991, Libby retired. After her husband’s passing, she would move to nearby Maysville into Kenton Point Assisted Living, so she could be nearer to her family. Eventually, Libby moved in with her family in the last year. In the latter part of her life, she returned to Jackson to visit the round palace that brought roundball to life under her husband’s leadership – the Breathitt Coliseum, now known as the Fairce O. Woods Coliseum.
It was reported that during her visit to Woods Coliseum, Libby felt her husband’s presence in the building, especially after seeing the mural of Fairce on the wall near the court. She was visibly moved and profoundly proud.
A Fleming County native, Libby was born November 17, 1928 to Dulcina Cooper and John Lewis Taylor, and was the oldest of three children. A long time member of the First United Methodist Church in Flemingsburg, she is survived by her daughter, Sandra Woods Ashley; a son-in-law, Kelly Ashley; a grandson, Patrick Flynn Ashley and his wife, Lauren S. Ashley. A sister, brother and brother-in-law also survive, as do several nieces, nephews and special cousins. In addition, the obituary noted that Libby “was lucky to have that one special friend, Grace Herald (Sam’s widow), and all her other special lady friends.”
Libby’s funeral was held Monday at 1 p.m., at the Boone-Nickell Funeral Home in Flemingsburg with Rev. Ben Cain officiating. She was laid to rest with her husband Fairce in the Fleming County Cemetery. Boone-Nickell Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.
The complete obituary can be found in this week’s Times-Voice.