Retired Santa Rosa car dealer Sam Wood, who died Aug. 7 at age 87, was the offspring of Sonoma County pioneers who grew hops and other crops on fertile land along the Laguna de Santa Rosa from the mid-1800s.
Wood’s father was a hop farmer who changed course by cultivating a keen interest in what came out of America’s early automobile factories. Sam Wood worked for decades alongside his father, then succeeded his father, the famous Babe Wood, as the county’s first Cadillac dealer.
Sam Wood inherited his father’s love of people and his dedication to old-fashioned customer service, and he honored those traits as he and, in time, his son, Bruce, led the dealership that became the Wood Pontiac Cadillac Mazda of Corby Avenue. When they sold it to the Hansel Auto Group in 2007, that transaction concluded the Wood family’s 81 years of selling cars in Santa Rosa.
Sam Wood, an outdoor enthusiast who was at home in Sonoma County when he wasn’t relishing a second home near Truckee, was 72 when the dealership was sold and he retired. For the past 15 years, he has enjoyed golfing, hiking, listening to jazz and other music, and spending quiet time with family and friends.
“Sam had a soft voice, with an infectious laugh,” said longtime friend Vic Trione. Trione and his brother, Mark, were close to Sam Wood.
The Trione brothers’ father, late business and community leader Henry Trione, was a close friend and hunting companion of Babe Wood. Vic Trione said he looked up to Sam Wood, who was 12 years his senior, diligent, respectful and modest, as a role model.
“He was great company and had a great sense of humor,” Trione said.
Sam Wood’s daughter, Susanne Wood-Lytle, of Santa Rosa, said: “There was so much about my dad that most people didn’t know because he was very humble throughout his life. He was not a sighted man but a very calm, present and kind man.
Samuel Talmadge “Sam” Wood Jr. was born May 1, 1935 in Santa Rosa to Florence Marie Wood and Samuel Talmadge “Babe” Wood.
Sevastopol-born father Sam Wood, the former hop rancher, had started selling a muscular precursor to the pickup truck, the REO Speedwagon, on Third Street in Santa Rosa in 1926. Babe Wood added a DeSoto franchise and Plymouth, and in 1936 opened a brand new Cadillac dealership on Mendocino Avenue, a few blocks north of what was then Courthouse Square. He added Pontiacs in 1939.
Her son grew up in the Grace Tract neighborhood. Sam Wood’s daughter Susanne said he worked for her father as a child, washing cars and doing odd jobs at the dealership.
Wood attended high school at the San Diego County Army and Navy Academy. He lived and studied there with one of his closest friends from Santa Rosa, Ed Peterson, whose father had also been a hop farmer in Sonoma County.
After graduating, Wood enrolled at San Jose State College. He studied business and then returned home to work at his father’s car dealership, learning over time and taking on more responsibility for all aspects of the business.
The Wood dealership prospered. Sam Wood was working in the parts department when he met fellow Santa Rosa native Emily Gail Barnard, a 1961 graduate of Santa Rosa High School.
They were married in 1965 at the Rose Presbyterian Church. They would have three children.
Babe Wood was 70 when he passed management of the Wood dealership to his son in 1971. Five years later, Sam Wood moved the operation from downtown to Corby’s auto row.
Sam Wood’s son Bruce joined him in the dealership, and the two worked side by side until the sale to Hansel 15 years ago. It is two years later that the patriarch Babe Wood dies at the age of 103 years.
Retirement allowed Sam Wood to take golf seriously enough that he and Gail bought a house on a course near Truckee. They divided their time between there and Santa Rosa.
Over the past few years, cancer has drained Sam Wood’s energy to the point that he could no longer play golf, so he sat on his patio next to the second tee and enjoyed watching the others play. He would like to talk to the golfers, and they to him.
“He was a people guy, he loved getting to know people,” Bruce Wood said.
His son-in-law, Steve Lytle, observed, “Sam was a real gentleman. And he was such a humble man that you will never meet.
In addition to his wife and daughter in Santa Rosa and his son in New Hampshire, Wood is survived by his son Barret Wood of Fargo, North Dakota, and three grandchildren.
At Wood’s request, there will be no services.
His family suggests memorial donations to: Tahoe Forest Foundation Cancer Center or the foundation’s Cancer Center Oncology Support Program, 10121 Pine Avenue, Truckee CA, 96161 or online at secure.acceptiva.com/?cst=72bf03.