Long-time Democratic volunteer and activist Marcus Woodward died on September 25. He had been in declining health for some time, partially as a result of being the victim of an assault in 2014 that caused multiple medical problems.
I knew of Marcus from two connections: his work as chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party finance committee, and his Twitter account, which I read and often retweeted. I had the sense, however, that there was more to Marcus Woodward than I knew, so I decided to speak with Sandy, his wife, to learn more. And I'm glad I did.
Here, then, are some remembrances of Marcus Woodward, from two people who were very close to him.
Insights and quotes from Sandy Woodward
Most people knew that Marcus was an insurance agent and broker. He owned his own agency (which Sandy is going to keep running). What some may not know is the involvement Marcus had in state government, including some important events.
He started out working in the Labor Department as an investigator/mediator, moving to Ashland for that work after graduating from Maryville College in Tennessee (where he sang in the college choir). In 1990, he opened his insurance agency, working there right up until his death.
When he moved to Ashland, he got involved in the local Democratic party. According to Sandy, his first political activity was working on a local wet/dry vote.
Eventually, he became chair of the Boyd County Democratic Party, and served as its chair for many, many years. He stepped down as chair in 2012 to "let someone younger take over," but continued to serve on the county Democratic Executive Committee until his death. Along the way, he also ran campaigns for various candidates, and mentored others as they got into politics.
He started serving on the KDP State Central Executive Committee about the time Paul Patton was elected governor, representing the 4th Congressional District until his death. He became chair of the SCEC finance committee, and served there until his death.
Sandy noted that one thing Marcus was very proud of was that during his time as party chair in Boyd County, all the local offices were always filled by Democrats. Around there, Marcus was known as "Mr. Democrat."
Lobbying in Frankfort
in 1994, he joined the Kentucky Association of Health Underwriters, and began doing "informal lobbying" for KAHU interests in Frankfort. But, while he was lobbying for the insurance companies, he was also lobbying for the uninsured. He was always worried about people who could not get insurance, either due to cost or due to being uninsurable.
At that time, if you were deemed uninsurable due to your medical situation, there was nothing you could do about it. You could not get insurance, and you were on your own in terms of medical bills.
Marcus decided to do something about this. He lobbied the legislature to put in place a high-risk pool that anyone could get insurance from if they had been turned down by the insurance companies. After years of effort, he got the legislature to pass a bill establishing the "Kentucky Access" high-risk pool for the uninsurable, with the bill passing by one vote in the House and one vote in the Senate. For this work, he was given the "Medal of Honor" insurance award.
Involvement with Kynect
When the Affordable Care Act passed, Kentucky was one of the few states to set up its own health coverage exchange, called Kynect. Governor Steve Beshear asked Marcus to serve on the advisory board overseeing the design and build-out of the program.
Marcus liked to eat at a diner in Ashland, and there he met a woman named Elizabeth Watts. She had numerous health problems, was uninsurable, and had many medical bills. She was working at the diner, which was one of the few jobs she was healthy enough to keep, in order to pay off her medical bills.
The Kynect system went live at midnight on October 1st of 2013.
And at 12:01 AM, Marcus Woodward signed up Elizabeth Watts as Kynect's first enrollee.
Said Sandy, "He was always about taking care of people. And his love for Kentucky was immense."
Remembrances and quotes from David Cartmell
As we were wrapping up, I asked Sandy if there were any special stories she wanted to share about Marcus. She said, "I think you should call David Cartmell. He was the mayor of Maysville for a long time, and he and Marcus were friends since high school. He will probably have some pithy story to tell you about Marcus."
When I called him and shared what Sandy had said, he chuckled and said "Well, I'm not sure you could print any of them."
Then he got serious and shared something he had said in his eulogy of Marcus the day before:
“Mason County has lost an advocate. Kentucky history has lost an advocate. The Democratic Party has lost an advocate. And, the uninsured have lost their advocate.”
He went on: "Marcus lobbied hard for the insurance industry, and he lobbied for the uninsured. I don’t think he made a great deal of money, but he sure was passionate."
I asked about his political work, and Cartmell said, "I was mayor for five terms here, and he ran my campaign every time." He went on to share other stories of persons unexpectedly winning elections, and said "That was the kind of magic he could bring to politics."
Did Marcus have a sense of humor? Cartmell chuckled and again said he wasn't sure he had a story that would be shareable. But then he said, "He had a great sense of humor. It started young; the first time I met Marcus he had bought, with a partner, a 1954 Cadillac hearse from the Pepper Funeral Home in Germantown. His partner was Bear Finn, whom everybody knows. They made a party wagon out of it.
"It was just growing up in a rural area. I mean, his father farmed with horses, so that just tells you the period of time that his tutelage transcended."
More from Cartnell about Marcus: "He was a Renaissance guy. He could sit and talk about the movements of Civil War battles. He was so well-read, and just a joy to talk to. There was definitely a depth to him. His farm was a land-grant farm — I think the Woodwards had come from Virginia, after the Revolutionary War. He loved history, and he lived it. History and politics was what he was all about."
My time with David Cartmell wrapped up with this anecdote:
"We have the oldest fair and horse show in the state here in Germantown, and his father was the director of it. When I was made director, Marcus gave me his father’s director’s badge. He was just a true friend."
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