FAIRBANKS — Virginia “Ginny” Hill Wood led a life of adventure beginning at a young age leading horseback trips in her native Washington state, bicycling through pre-war Europe in 1938, serving as a WASP pilot during World War II, building Camp Denali and leading wilderness treks.
But her most lasting legacy will be her role as a dedicated pioneer Alaska environmentalist.
Wood passed away in the early morning Friday at her home in the presence of some close friends. She was 95 years old and died of natural causes.
“She went very peacefully,” said longtime friend and musician Susan Grace.
“We were singing and humming to her and supporting her. A lot of us are thankful she is free from her body for she was such an active person for so many years.”
According to friends, Wood guided her last backcountry trip at age 70, cross-country skied into her mid-eighties and gardened into her early nineties.
Roger Kaye, Arctic Wildlife Refuge assistant director, who worked at Camp Denali during the 1970s, described Wood as “an extremely multi-talented woman; a fascinating study to listen to and very opinionated.
“She had a vision outside of her own personal interest. It was an interest for Alaska and the future,” he said.
“She played a fundamental role in the beginning of the conservation movement in Alaska. The Alaska Conservation Society was founded in her living room in the late 1950s.”
Kaye said Wood was highly influenced by the writings of pioneer ecologist Aldo Leopold and his ideas that went beyond conservation, that the natural world and planets had certain intrinsic rights.
“She used those terms, ‘the Earth and the planets.’ That reflected her broad and visionary thinking. She was way ahead of her time in that regard,” Kaye said,
Another of Wood’s friends, Karen Brewster, recently edited and published, “Boots, Bikes, and Bombers: Adventures of Alaska Conservationist Ginny Hill Wood.”
For two years, 2006-2008, Brewster and friends met with Wood for conversations about her many life experiences and stories. The gatherings would start with dinner and continue into the evening, which Brewster filmed.
“She was a very inspiring woman and did many things that were unusual for women of her time that women today take for granted,” Brewster said.
“Ginny’s philosophy and approach to life was cherishing nature and friends, fighting for what you believe in, living a simple life and not leaving a big footprint.
“She loved the outdoors and the wilderness and it was really important to her that to have those places protected,” Brewster said.
Wood’s humility about her conservation work and her impact on protecting Alaska’s wild places, impressed many.
In response to praise, Grace said, Wood would respond with, “I have been in the right place at the right time. I am just lucky.
“We all looked up to her for that; she was always so humble,” Grace said.
As an environmentalist, conservationist and activist, Grace said, she thinks of Wood as “one of the elders of our tribe.”
“She is one of the strongest and most independent women I have ever met who has inspired many other younger women, and younger generations to be strong, stand up for themselves and follow their heart.
“A lot of the work she did was amazing — stopping the Rampart Dam, Project Chariot, speaking before Congress. She gave some eloquent testimony talking about the Arctic Wildlife Refuge,” Grace said.
Wood was involved in grassroots conservation throughout her life. She was a prolific writer and wrote a regular column for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center’s newsletter.
Wood always had a vegetable garden, sometimes two.
“She loved to garden and was so connected to the earth, she turned her garden with a hand trowel. She loved to play in the dirt and grow things,” Grace said.
Grace said Wood was not only one of the mothers of the conservation movement in Alaska along with Celia Hunter, but kind of a mother figure to a lot of local people.
“There are many in this town who have that connection with Ginny. A lot have done wilderness trips and river trips with her, spent time with her in the (Denali) park and up in the Brooks Range. Those are really special treasures to cherish.”
Wood is survived by her daughter Romany Wood and son-in-law Carl Rosenberg of San Cristobal, N.M.
Memorial plans are pending.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com