SOUTH PORTLAND – One of the first things said about John Woodbury on Tuesday was that he was a “true friend,” who would do anything for anyone at a moments notice.

He came to the rescue when friends or relatives had car trouble. And once saved a friend’s boat from sinking.

His wife, Winnona Woodbury of South Portland, said that particular call for help came one night during a bad storm. She said her husband got his pump and motored his boat to his friend’s boat and pumped the water out.

“He was just that kind of person,” his wife said. “If it was in his power, he would do what he could to help. “

Woodbury, who died on Sunday at 71, was a longtime tractor trailer truck driver.

Most recently, he drove a truck for J.J. Nissen, now Interstate Bakeries Corp. He worked for the company for 21 years. He delivered its products throughout New England.

He previously worked for Pioneer Plastics Corp. in Auburn for 18 years. From 1978 to 1986, he drove cross country with his wife, who also had a commercial driver’s license. She reminisced about their cross country trips to the West Coast. She said after they delivered Pioneer’s products, they transported produce back to Maine.

“We saw a lot of the countryside from the windshield,” his wife said. “He was the better driver, by all means. We both took our turns.”

The Woodburys had a lot of practice at creating balance and patience in their relationship.

The couple met as teenagers on New Year’s Eve in 1958 at the Elm Street Roller Skating Rink in Portland.

“I thought he was cute,” she remarked. “He had big blue eyes and dark brown hair.”

They got married in 1960. She was 17 and he was 19-years-old.

“To be honest, the whole family didn’t give us a snowball’s chance of staying married,” she said.

It’s been 52 years since they married. “We complimented each other. We made it work. We enjoyed each other. We had our little spats, but we got over it and got on with it.”

Woodbury, who grew up on Peaks Island, had a life-long passion for boating. In his early years he worked two or three jobs to support his wife and four children. In addition to being a truck driver, he was a lobsterman.

“He was a self-made man,” she said. “He worked harder to do better, and he did. He made a good life for us.”

In the early 1970s, Woodbury bought an old school bus for $500 and converted it into a motor home. The family took it camping across Maine and New Hampshire. He also enjoyed kayaking, bicycling, hiking and motorcycling.

For several years, the Woodburys attended motorcycle rallies in Sturgis, S.D., Lake George, N.Y. and Laconia, N.H.

In the late 1980s, he bought a fishing boat that he named Winannjea.

He enjoyed taking his friends and family around Casco Bay, particularly to Jewell Island, where the family camped and watched the annual Fourth of July fireworks display.

“He loved his boat,” his wife said. “He loved being out there. For someone that couldn’t swim it just amazed me. But that’s what he liked.”

In April, Woodbury was diagnosed with cancer. A few weeks ago, the doctors told him his cancer was terminal.

“He was very accepting of it,” his wife said. “He lived his life the way he wanted to. … He was my best friend and companion. I will miss him terribly and so will his children.”

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

mcreamer@pressherald.com