Obituary for Milton Woo
November 12, 1929 – January 11, 2021
Milton Thomas Woo’s warm smile, sense of humor, can-do-attitude, and youthfulness will come to mind for many when they learn of his sudden passing on January 11, 2021 at the age of 91. He left us with many blessings, not the least of which was an example of “a life well-lived”.
His story began on Grant Avenue in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The middle child of seven, “Milt” and family crowded into a small apartment which had, as its only bathing option, a common bathroom down the hall from their apartment . He and his siblings were raised by their parents to be courageous, upright, and to work relentlessly to attain their goals. These guiding principles, as well as his intelligence, were evident when he learned English through immersion at St. Mary’s Catholic Elementary School. This accomplishment was especially impressive considering that a registration error resulted in him accidentally skipping one of the early grades, unbeknownst to his teachers! Years later, Milton bravely expanded his world beyond Chinatown by commuting to Polytechnic High School near Golden Gate Park. His natural athleticism surfaced when it was discovered that he was the second fastest runner at Polytechnic. As a result, the coach asked him to join the track team. Milt turned down the invitation because, like his siblings, he had to work after school to earn money to cover the family’s expenses after the loss of their father when he was 13 years old. Even though the Woo siblings didn’t have the same opportunities as their contemporaries, the experience of working towards a common goal and living in close quarters fostered an indelible bond between them.
As he worked towards an electrical engineering degree at Heald College, Milton was drafted into the United States Army and stationed at the Presidio as a cook. He felt lucky to be given an assignment that didn’t require him to go to the front lines. The other good fortune that came during his time at the Presidio was meeting his wife, Lovelle. They went on to build a full life together over the course of 65 years. They made their first home in a San Francisco apartment where they welcomed their two eldest children into the world. He showed an early propensity for creating comfort and efficiency for his family when he carried a washing machine up three flights of stairs to their apartment and installed it against building rules! Luckily, the building supervisor overlooked the infraction out of respect for the effort required for the installation and as appreciation for the help that Milton, so characteristically, provided with repairs in the building.
After he landed an engineering job with Lockheed Corporation, Milt and Lovelle sought to ease day-to-day life and gain more opportunities for their growing family by moving closer to his workplace. They bought a house in Sunnyvale – when it was still surrounded by cherry and apricot orchards – and made it their home for 33 years. They devoted themselves to creating an environment in which their four children could easily thrive. Beyond providing financial security, along with Lovelle, Milton instilled into his children the same values that had been taught to him: especially the belief that by working hard and doing the right thing one can attain their goals.
As time permitted, Milton developed interests that became lifelong passions such as playing tennis, skiing, and repairing things of all types and sizes. He was a fix-it man extraordinaire! While living in Sunnyvale, he dismantled and reinstalled an entire car engine. Milt never hired a repairman or contractor to work on their house, yard or car, even when the family wanted a small pool in their backyard. Yes, he dug out the pool by hand! He probably should have made the Guinness World Records Book for maintaining the longest running clothes dryer, as he kept their first one running for 57 years! Milton could be depended on by friends and family to jump at an opportunity to help with projects, either with advice or hands-on work. This was increasingly true during his retirement years spent at Lake Wildwood. He even helped with the community’s tennis facilities by doing everything from advocating for improvements for the courts to repairing the water fountain on several occasions. When working on any project, much of Milton’s contribution was his ability to “think outside the box”. About his project work, he said, “I could be in the garage or yard all day. It makes me very happy.” Generously sharing his love for and ability to repair and build things was how Milton quietly, humbly improved the lives of others, one project at a time.
Speaking of Lake Wildwood, Milton and Lovelle moved to a new home in that community after he retired from his 33 year career at Lockheed. During 27 years in their lake home, Milton built many friendships often through his favorite activities. He played tennis until recently and was known by fellow players to be an upbeat, respectful, and competitive sportsman. He skied until age 88 and would sometimes playfully race others to the top of the slope to make the first tracks in fresh snow. For years, Milton routinely gathered with his buddies at the local coffee shop to “solve the world’s problems”. He and Lovelle traveled to many parts of the world with friends. At home, they were welcoming, impeccable hosts, especially to their large family. Milton was always at the ready with the boat for a spin around the lake or his tennis racquet for some family games. Both he and Lovelle could be daring and fun-loving as seen when they learned to water ski in spite of not being able to swim! Their home provided a space for their kids and grandkids to make many treasured memories. What Milton valued most about all of his activities was spending time with friends and family. Referring to his friends at Lake Wildwood and his family respectively, he said: “I couldn’t ask for a better community of friends”, and “My greatest achievement is my family.”
Before his story concluded, Milton reflected on his “really good and full life”. Undoubtedly, applying the principles that were taught to him as a child contributed to his “life well-lived”. However, the companionship of his wife, family, and friends provided what he cherished most. Thank you to each of you who brought joy to him in this way. Please know that your ongoing love and support of Lovelle is truly appreciated.
At the close of an interview filmed by a family member last year, Milton was asked to share some final words of wisdom. He replied simply, “Do the right thing!” To our most beloved husband, father, grandfather, and friend: we will carry those words as well as so many others and the blessings that you shared with us, forever.
Milton is survived by his wife, Lovelle; his brother, Hiram Woo; his children, Debra Woo (Bill Benoit), Brian Woo, Terri (Pete) Jollymour, and John (Dawn) Woo; his grandchildren Vanessa (Daniel) Yerekhman, Lauren (Mike) Agorastos, Ryan (Stephanie) Benoit, Peter Jollymour, Scott Jollymour, Samantha Woo and Rachel Woo; and great grandchild, Claire Yerekhman. He is predeceased by parents, Woo Yuen Tong and Woo Lee Shee, and siblings; Ann Yee, Whitney Woo, Wesley Woo, Stanley Woo, and Howard Woo.
To protect the health of all during the current pandemic, only a private memorial service will be held for Milton’s wife, children and grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Milton’s memory to the Penn Valley Fire Department Auxiliary at: P. O. Box 180, Penn Valley, CA 95946. Tax deductible donation receipts will be provided upon request.
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